07 November 2023
By: Alani Janeke
Despite good rainfall over the eastern parts of the summer grain region in recent weeks, there are areas where planting could not take place. Predictions, however, look promising for next week.
In the first week of November, fairly widespread rain fell over the central to eastern summer rainfall region, but in most cases it was relatively light and totalled less than 30 mm.
Decent rains have fallen since the first week of October, such as in Greytown (164 mm), Fouriesburg (113 mm), Amersfoort (105 mm), Morgenzon (88 mm), Senekal and Kroonstad (82 mm), Schweizer-Reneke (36 mm) and Coligny (22 mm).
Hail damage occurred over the weekend in parts of KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and at Dewetsdorp in the Free State.
“While there is currently no crisis, the time for summer grain plantings is becoming limited. In Mpumalanga, there are areas where planting has not yet occurred, with less than two weeks of optimal planting time remaining,” said Johan van den Berg, independent agricultural meteorologist.
“Regarding rainfall expectations, it still looks favourable for the coming weeks to receive sufficient rain to enable planting.”
Van den Berg said from November 12 to 15 and in the last week of the month the chance of rain looks favourable, especially over eastern summer grain regions such as the eastern Free State, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Although rain is also possible over more central to western parts of the summer grain region during these periods, conditions do not appear favourable for widespread rain.
Very hot conditions
Very hot conditions with temperatures above 30°C are expected over the central to western parts from around November 10 to the end of the month and the beginning of December.
“Reasonably strong winds from a mainly western to northwestern component are expected, which will further exacerbate the hot and dry conditions,” said Van den Berg.
The very high temperatures can affect winter grains in the inland regions in the last few weeks before harvesting, he said. This could result in yield losses.
Winter rainfall area
Regarding the winter rainfall area, very little further rain is expected over the Swartland and adjacent areas, which may allow winter grains to be harvested without too much quality damage. “Somewhat more rain is possible in the Overberg and Southern Cape at Caledon, Riversdale and Swellendam in the last week of November, but it appears that the heavy rains are over,” said Van den Berg.
Fires still a risk
The risk of veld fires in the coming weeks remains high over the central to western parts of the country. In some areas, a lot of combustible material is still not being consumed by livestock due to its poor quality.
“With the occurrence of lightning and the ever-present risk of arson, the risk remains very high. The areas that have already burned do offer some protection against the spread of veld fires.”
The western parts
The greatest need for rain is in the western extensive grazing areas, especially in the Northern Cape and Namibia, outside the summer grain areas where planting needs to take place.
In contrast to the rest of South Africa, the Northern Cape and most of Namibia did not receive the expected amount of rain in the 2022-2023 summer season typically associated with La Niña events.
“This is possibly because the La Niña in 2022-2023 was a reasonably weak developing system and therefore could not exert a favourable influence on rainfall further west,” said Van den Berg.
“The lack of follow-up rain in the 2022-2023 summer season after the good rainfall of the 2021-2022 season has resulted in very poor grazing conditions.
“Predictions are currently not favourable for sufficient rain over these areas for at least the next two to three weeks, and longer-term predictions from December 2023 to at least March 2024 are also not favourable. Because especially grass grazing has almost completely died off, follow-up rain will be very necessary before recovery can begin, and currently the chance for that looks very slim.
“Given the fact that very high temperatures and strong winds will occur in the coming months, the chance of veld recovery is very small.
“This causes a significant gap in the availability of high-quality grazing needed for animals that are now starting to reproduce, with calves and lambs arriving. A high mortality rate of new arrivals is expected. It can also cause cows and ewes to die because there is too little high-quality nutrition for self-maintenance.”
What can be done?
The big question is what needs to be done now since it does not make economic sense to feed livestock, especially large animals.