FARM­ERS STAND THEIR GROUND

Talk that farm­ers would stop plant­ing be­cause of un­cer­tainty over land re­form is far from the truth, says an agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist. It’s busi­ness as usual as trac­tor sales spike and crop plant­ing peaks.

The Citizen (Gauteng) - - FRONT PAGE - Simnikiwe Hlat­sha­neni – simniki­weh@cit­i­zen.co.za

Agri-SA pres­i­dent re­mains op­ti­mistic while TAU-SA urges farm­ers ‘to plant as much as they can’.

If com­mer­cial farm­ers are wor­ried about the im­pend­ing ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion, that clearly hasn’t stopped them from con­tin­u­ing with their busi­ness as usual, say ex­perts.

Agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist Wandile Sihlobo said talk over the past few months that farm­ers would stop plant­ing be­cause of un­cer­tainty over land re­form was con­tra­dicted by data, which “sug­gest that this is hardly the case”.

“Just this week, the SA Agri­cul­tural Ma­chin­ery As­so­ci­a­tion in­di­cated that trac­tor sales were up 11% year on year in Septem­ber, with 612 units sold.

“In the first nine months of the year, trac­tor sales amounted to 5 001 units, up 7% from the cor­re­spond­ing pe­riod in 2017.”

In his blog, Agri­cul­tural Eco­nomic To­day, Sihlobo added: “To fur­ther re­fute the claims – that farm­ers stopped plant­ing – be­tween May and Au­gust this year SA farm­ers planted 508 350ha [hectares] of win­ter wheat, up 3% year on year, and 119 000ha of bar­ley, up 30% year on year. There is also fairly good ac­tiv­ity in other field crops, hor­ti­cul­ture and the live­stock sec­tor.”

He added: “With num­bers like those, it is clearly in­ac­cu­rate to state that ‘farm­ers have stopped plant­ing’.”

Sihlobo’s up­beat views were sup­ported by farm­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions.

The con­ser­va­tive-in­clined Transvaal Agri­cul­tural Union SA (TAU-SA) has urged crop farm­ers to plant as much as they can this sea­son, de­spite the in­creas­ing un­cer­tainty brought on by the land ex­pro­pri­a­tion de­bate.

TAU-SA gen­eral man­ager Bennie van Zyl said while it was too early to tell whether some farm­ers would be plant­ing less crops, if at all this year, it was not ad­vis­able to make a de­ci­sion purely based on the prospect of gov­ern­ment adopt­ing a pol­icy to ex­pro­pri­ate land with­out com­pen­sa­tion.

“It is a very com­pli­cated thing to mea­sure and at the mo­ment it is too early to tell, be­cause we have to wait for the first rains to come,” said Van Zyl about the pos­si­bil­ity of less crop plant­ing this sea­son.

“Only then we can see how much plant­ing ac­tiv­ity is hap­pen­ing so we should know for sure in a cou­ple of weeks’ time. But I think ev­ery farmer de­cides on their own ac­cord­ing to their sit­u­a­tion and there are many fac­tors that make it dif­fi­cult.”

Agri­cul­ture fell al­most 30% in this year’s sec­ond quar­ter, which was blamed for the coun­try en­ter­ing into a tech­ni­cal re­ces­sion with the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct fall­ing to 0.7%. The de­crease was mainly be­cause of a drop in the pro­duc­tion of field crops and hor­ti­cul­tural prod­ucts.

Or­gan­ised farm­ing group AgriSA’s pres­i­dent Dan Kriek said the de­cline in growth fig­ures in the first two quar­ters of the year had more to do with eco­nomics than pol­i­tics.

“We saw a very high in­crease in eco­nomic growth af­ter the drought and par­tic­u­larly the maize har­vest,” he said. “We were com­ing from the very high base last year and then we had the drought in the Western Cape so there were var­i­ous fac­tors that saw the de­cline of about 5% in those fig­ures. The smaller har­vest this year was be­cause we were com­ing from that high base.”

Van Zyl said his union was, how­ever, con­cerned with the grow­ing un­cer­tainty in the farm­ing sec­tor and said the ef­fect of this might not be felt im­me­di­ately. De­spite this, he said, he re­mained op­ti­mistic about the im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

“Ev­ery farmer is dif­fer­ent, al­though it does have an im­pact in some ways, but we will have to wait for the process to un­fold.”

He gave an ex­am­ple of the Free State, where “some farm­ers are still be­ing af­fected by the drought and can’t plant and they can’t get the fi­nances, but some are tak­ing a chance”.

How­ever, he noted “the land is­sue is one of the prob­lems that might make a farmer say he is not will­ing to take the risk, so it is be­com­ing a prob­lem”.

“We would tell them to have their farms as fully op­er­a­tional as they can. If you can do it, go for it and do the best that you can do.”

There is also fairly good ac­tiv­ity in other field crops

Pic­ture: Gallo Images

Pic­ture: Gallo Images

GREENER PAS­TURES. A farmer on a trac­tor work­ing on his farm. Talk over the past few months that farm­ers in South Africa would stop plant­ing be­cause of un­cer­tainty over land re­form was con­tra­dicted by data, say agri­cul­tural ex­perts.

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