Ever-changing South Africa

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We live in an ever-changing environment in South Africa, one that is making life, in general, and farming, in particular, very challenging. The saying “adapt or die” is becoming more and more of a reality for us farmers.

As a dairy farmer in the Eastern Cape we are faced with challenges that we have always had, like drought, but the droughts are seemingly different in that they are far more severe, prolonged and frequent. Climate change is a reality and is here to stay so we best learn to cope with it before we become a statistic.

Our Just Milk group of dairies are fortunate in that we are spread across the province where rainfall differs enormously, an example being that at Greenside in the Titsikamma we have experienced a very good spring having had 200mm of rain last week alone. Along the coast at Sea Rest we have had the worst spring that I can recall since buying the farm in 1995. I cannot ever recall feeding cows in October which has always been our “rain season”.

Along the Fish River the irrigation farms are under pressure having had very little rain but the reliability of the irrigation water from the Gariep Dam has been our saving grace. Queenstown farms have been hit hardest as we have run out of water, our water source being the town’s sewerage works. Queenstown has had a water crisis so toilets not being flushed too often affects our supply. Furthermore, the management of sewage has pretty much stopped thanks to a blundering municipality resulting in raw sewage pouring into the river. It’s just disgraceful but none the less continues.

Our new developments in Ida have had some rain of late, but need lots more. Being a summer rainfall area we remain hopeful for Queenstown, Cookhouse and Ida but sadly for Alexandria we will once again have to go into survival mode in the hopes that we get rain in March.

Milk prices remain low as they tend to do nowadays in the summer months. Our countries production curve has resulted in far more milk being produced in summer vs. winter. Pressure on milk price has forced grass based milk production into producing seasonally when the majority of grass grows. It is expensive to produce milk in the winter as cows need to be supplemented with roughage and additional concentrates at huge cost, this due to low growth rates of the pasture through winter.

An oversupply of milk in summer results in milk prices to retail being discounted to move volumes, making it very difficult to convince retailers to pay more in the winter. We have also seen processors and retailers import milk during winter months to maintain supply. This hurts our industry. The more seasonal milk production becomes, the more pressure will be placed on farm gate prices, just another change we will have to adapt to.

The current economic environment is of major concern. As I write we see major SAA strikes. I cannot ever recall SAA stopping all flights. Our SOE’s are all under pressure and what we seeing at SAA is just the start of their demise. If that happens jobs are lost and consumers of dairy products lose their jobs. Unemployment is killing our country and it’s about to get worse. People need jobs. The current environment will also have to change and like us farmers whose incomes are under pressure the man in the street is going to have to expect salary cuts if jobs are to remain. People in our country (largely in government) are overpaid for the jobs they do. That has to change and our unions, unknowingly, will be the cause of increased unemployment. Like SAA, bankrupt companies cannot continue increasing people’s salaries.

The political issues around land remain a concern to us all but we can only hope that common sense prevails. Unfortunately job losses, retrenchment and joblessness is going to place more focus on the land issue as it is believed by many to be the answer to poverty alleviation in general.

How do we adapt to this changing environment? The answer is very simple: we change! If we continue to do things the way our fathers did then we will go out of business. No disrespect to our fathers but if the rules of the game change then you have to come up with a game plan within the new rules. That’s what has happened.

Our collective “Just Milk” responsibility is to embrace the challenge of change and ensure that our farms and people remain adaptable to the ever-changing environment.

Yours in milk,