Free State farmers are suffering due to load shedding

Henry

The current heat wave condition together with phase 6 load shedding is putting tremendous stress on especially maize and soybean crops on dry land and even under irrigation in several regions in the Free State. “The confluence of circumstances causes great anxiety in the agricultural community at a critical time in the development of our cereal crops,” says Francois Wilken, president of Free State Agriculture (VL).

Kempen Nel, irrigation farmer and board member of VL, confirms that maize plantings in the Oranje-Riet Water Users Association (WGV) area are in a critical seed shoot stage.

“Prolonged phase 6 load shedding prevents irrigated farmers from applying enough water to meet the optimal needs of the corn plant.” Nel says that farmers in the area are very worried about their yields and consequent financial loss due to load shedding.

Dr. Jack Armour, commercial manager of VL, mentions that the organization met with Eskom early last year about the same problem. “The proposed solution by Eskom was to apply “load curtailment”, but this was not practically workable for the Oranje-Riet WGV. The current proposed solution of load reduction is also not practical, according to Armour, as the expensive pumping equipment suffers great damage due to insufficient power supply.

Furthermore, says Wilken, Eskom’s operation and application of load shedding often harms the countryside. “Farmers and rural communities go through much longer hours of load shedding than are experienced in the cities, even though the levels of load shedding are the same. We would like a clear answer about this injustice.”

Nel confirmed that VL has a scheduled meeting with Eskom on 23 February to urgently discuss, among other things, the issue of load shedding. “We would also like to urgently investigate the issue of load-shedding exemption.”

Nel referred to the court order by the Pretoria High Court, which Dr. Kgotsientso Ramokgopa, Minister of Energy, instructed to urgently ensure that hospitals, schools and police stations are exempted from load shedding. “The court stated that various human rights, such as access to water and food, are affected by load shedding. We (irrigation farmers) are the food providers, but are limited or prevented by load shedding from addressing this need and therefore we are of the opinion that agriculture must also be urgently exempted from load shedding.”