FOUR SEASONS OF WHEAT IN THE SWARTLAND
Anumber of circumstances brought me to the dusty little town of Koringberg in 2016, and what I discovered here was still pure farmland: wherever I looked there were golden wheatfields, wind pumps, sheep and wide open plains – with bakkies, tractors and even harvesters droning along the streets. And although it’s only 115km from Cape Town, there is no noise or air pollution here, nor is the lifestyle too fast or expensive.
Right from the start I was completely fascinated by everything to do with the process of farming wheat, which is the main activity of this region: the interesting zen-garden lines that the sowing machines make in the earth; the shoots of wheat that march in rows like soldiers after the first good winter rains; the fully grown wheat that dances so beautifully in the wind – almost like the blue cranes sometimes spotted in the fields. So I decided to use my trusty camera to capture a year in the production process of this important crop.
The season usually starts around March when the land is burnt to get rid of last year’s stubble, and fertiliser or lime is distributed over the fields. The planting takings place in April or May, and by June or July the first shoots make their appearance. By August or September the wheat is lush in the fields. This is when pests and plagues must be dealt with – some farmers make use of sophisticated sprayers drawn by tractors but others have their crops sprayed by aeroplane. They may spray up to four times per season against pests such as bollworm. Other creatures that could damage the harvest include flocks of birds (such as weavers), the occasional buck and porcupines.
Harvesting starts in October or November, and work takes place at the speed of light to get the yield into the silos or other storage facilities as fast as possible. The rest of us have to be patient now, because this is the time of year when we stand a good chance of getting stuck behind a harvester, truck or tractor on the road. You learn to count to 10 and think about the many challenges the farmers >
and their workers face in order to put food on our tables. Not everyone has what it takes to harvest their fields while the mercury hovers around 40˚C and hordes of insects are swarming about!
Rainfall that was significantly below average made the 2017 wheat season exceptionally difficult in the Western Cape. Statistics indicate that wheat production fell by up to 32% (take a look at elsenburg.com/sites/default/files/ services-at-a.../drought-fact-sheet-final. pdf). Yet the farmers remain optimistic. I even spoke to one who believes that it’s possible to grow wheat in the desert!
Yes, I’ve learnt a lot about wheat in Koringberg but I’ve also learnt something else: once you’ve found your feet in the Swartland and the locals have accepted you, you’re going to find it very difficult to leave.
I’d like to thank the Koringberg farming community for the hospitality with which I was welcomed on all the farms where I took photographs.