The current El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is in a weak La Niña phase, which is expected to continue until early autumn, according to Weather SA’s long-term weather forecaster, Cobus Olivier.
While a La Niña event was usually conducive to increased rainfall over South Africa’s summer rainfall region, it remained uncertain what the effect of the circulation over the equatorial Pacific Ocean would be. The circulation did not resemble a typical La Niña, he said.
Hansie Viljoen, Leeudoringstad grain producer, said conditions in the western parts of the summer grain production area were dire. In some parts of North West, for example, as little as 30% of the lands earmarked for grain production had been planted.
Crops that had been planted were struggling to survive, and in some cases the crops were dying as a result of the severely depleted soil moisture levels and extremely high temperatures.
Rainfall remained erratic in December, with some parts of South Africa continuing to experience below-average rainfall while others received more than 200% of the monthly average.
According to the SA Weather Service, Heilbron in the Free State received 212mm in December, compared with the usual monthly average of 102mm. At total of 249mm fell in Amersfoort in Mpumalanga, and reports of crop damage were received.
This contrasted dramatically with parts of the Northern Cape. Fraserberg, for example, registered only 3mm in December, which was 13% of its monthly average of 23mm. Drought-stricken Calvinia, in the winter rainfall area, received just 1mm of rain.
Rainfall figures for Free State over December varied significantly. Heilbron topped the rainfall log with 212mm, followed by Frankfort at 146mm. Koffiefontein received only 9mm for the month, just 16% of its average of 54mm.
Free State Agriculture president Francois Wilken told Farmer’s Weekly that he was concerned about farmers in the west and south of the province.
“Their cash flow is depleted. One farmer in Bethulie told me he would have to stop feeding his livestock,” he said.
Although 40 000 jobs were ‘lost’ in the agricultural sector in the second quarter of 2017, this was in line with seasonal norms due to reduced horticultural activity.
This was according to Agbiz economist Wandile Sihlobo, who said that employment in the sector now stood at 835 000.
Sihlobo added that the bulk of agriculture job losses had been in the horticulture, forestry and aquaculture industries.
Statistics SA released its second-quarter (Q2) labour force survey on 7 August. This revealed that employment had increased in some sectors and decreased in others, with the general unemployment rate remaining unchanged from the first quarter (Q1).
Employment had declined to 16,1 million but a decline in the number of job seekers meant that the unemployment rate had remained unchanged at 27,7%. Employment had declined in six out of ten industries. The largest number of job losses were in construction (110 000), followed by agriculture (40 000).