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Drought hits SA wheat farmers hard

National Agricultural Marketing Council warns food prices are expected to increase nationwide.

A combine harvester harvests the 2015 wheat fields in the Swartland district. This year has been plagued by severe water shortages. Picture: Anthony Molyneaux/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - Some Western Cape farmers despair a mounting water crisis is drying up their profits.

Several Swartland residents have labelled this dry season as their worst since 1952.

Agri-Wes Cape expects this harvest to be lacklustre at best, given consistently low rainfall over the past year.

The hard, dusty soil of Enkelfontein does not look arable.

Patches of dried grass are dotted along fields sporting ground the consistency of powder.

Hopefield wheat farmer Olivier Slabber is worried.

He told Eyewitness News that he usually earns about R10,000 per hectare, with the farm's operational costs amounting to about R6,000 per hectare.

This year however, Slabber is only making R3,500 per hectare, that means a loss of at least R3 million.

"Financially the impact is a lot bigger. There are bills that need to be paid and animals that need to be fed."

Farmer Gideon Melck is in the same dilemma and shared Slabber's sentiments.

"Each year is a challenge and this year there's a much bigger one."

The National Agricultural Marketing Council warns food prices are expected to increase nationwide, in the coming weeks.

The drought in several parts of South Africa has resulted in some provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape, being declared disaster areas.

DAILY BREAD

At the same time, the amount of wheat produced in the Western Cape, considered to be the country's breadbasket, has reached record lows.

Darling wheat farmer Andre Kirstens cautions that consumers are not immune to the challenges facing those in the grain-producing sector.

Agricultural economist Christo Joubert agrees, labeling it as supply and demand.

Farmers can't ramp up their output when there's no water.

"When there's crisis with water, then there will be a crisis with production of commodities that go into food stuff and especially on our poorest."

Joubert says vegetable and wheat farmers along the West Coast have harvested less than one third of their average output, placing enormous strain on the grain industry.

Some struggling wheat farmers are pleading with the Western Cape government to intervene in order to reduce the knock-on effect on consumers.

The current water crisis has contributed to sagging harvests following months of poor rainfall.

Provincial Agriculture, Economic Development and Tourism MEC Alan Winde, has been meeting with West Coast farmers to find ways to manage scare resources.

November usually sees the Swartland's mammoth storage units fill up with around 17,000 tonnes of wheat, each.

Now, however, the Koperfontein silos contain only 5,000 tonnes.

Melck wants government to help.

"I hope government will see the urge for feed, the value of the stubble is very, very poor."

Winde agreed.

"We could have areas where we can help with animal feed, those areas where we can coordinate."

Provincial authorities have also been discussing alternative practices which farmers may implement in an effort to adapt to climate change.

But the MEC has emphasised local government can't alter output levels or change yields.

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