PHOTO ES­SAY

FOUR SEA­SONS OF WHEAT IN THE SWART­LAND

go! Platteland - - FRONT PAGE - TEXT AND PHO­TOS OSWALD KURTEN

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.