Black frost deals a heavy blow to Limpopo farmers

“Everything is dead … it froze to death within three days,” says a potato farmer from Limpopo after black frost hit his farm at the weekend. He has lost more than 74 hectares of his crop. 

“There is nothing left. What can I say? It hurts,” says Schalla Hoogenboezem from the Vlieland farm near Vivo. 

Thousands of hectares of potatoes in Limpopo have been destroyed within days in the icy conditions, and wildlife has also perished.

Schalla noticed the first frost on his farm on Saturday morning but says he could never have guessed how much damage it would cause. He has already lost more than 74 hectares of potatoes.

“I have been farming on this land for 30 years and this is the worst frost we have ever encountered. Some of my potatoes were still in their early growth stages and other plants were between six and 10 weeks old.”

Now he sees only empty stems when he looks over his fields. “Our hands are completely tied. There is nothing you can do now except have faith and pray that later there will be a small bud or shoot where leaves will grow again.”

About 100 km away on the other side of Blouberg, Schalla’s cousin, Jo, from the Albida farm near Tolwe, was just as badly hit.

“Every year or two, it frosts here in patches. But never too badly because it is warm on this side of the mountain,” he says.

“This is really the first time since our family has been farming here that damage of this nature has occurred over the entire crop.”

The crop loss is 100% in places and varies between 50% and 80% elsewhere. “They predict the last cold for tomorrow before it gets a bit warmer,” he says. 

“We will be able to see by Friday what has survived in the fields and what looks like it can still be saved. This whole situation is very difficult.”

Japie van der Goot from the VDG farm in the Vivo and Waterpoort area lost half his potato crop and three kudu bulls to the cold. “It was a terrible thing to see. One feels completely powerless,” he says.

“Even though there is still grass in the reserve camp, we had a very dry winter and there are very few leaves on the trees in the bush. The cold and frost make things worse, and the wildlife is physically struggling.”

He says storm winds a month ago virtually buried his crop under sand. The plants’ stems were broken, and those that survived have now frozen to death.

“It is really sad and difficult. I don’t know where the potatoes will come from in August and September. It’s going to be a big scramble. One just has to have faith.”

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