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Weather patterns influence farming operations

October 2023

In the coming months and years, changing global weather patterns will likely have significant consequences for South African farmers, especially those involved in livestock and grain production.

This is according to Paul Makube, senior agricultural economist at FNB, who says that, after enjoying three years of abundant rains and favourable conditions due to La Niña, South Africa is now heading into an El Niño phase. This typically translates to drier weather and creates uncertainty for farmers, with the potential to negatively impact yields going forward.

‘The previous La Niña years were a boon for South African farmers, with above-average rains supporting agriculture and leading to higher yields in field crops, fruits, vegetables and even improved grazing pastures for livestock,’ Makube explains. ‘However, the anticipated shift to El Niño conditions presents new challenges for farmers who are already facing multiple other factors that are impacting their activities.’

According to Makube, these challenges include loadshedding, changing consumer patterns and declining consumer confidence due to lower levels of disposable income, and relatively elevated farming input costs. He explains that the changing weather patterns will almost certainly exacerbate these challenges. It will add upward pressure on costs for farmers and food prices for consumers, further fuelling concerns about food insecurity – not so much in terms of availability, but more so due to unaffordability.

‘Adaptation by farmers is crucial in the face of the coming hot and dry conditions caused by El Niño,’ he emphasises. ‘For livestock farmers this means taking steps now to ensure an appropriate balance between feed availability and stock numbers.’

Makube highlights that, in situations where there is an imbalance in these factors, the common response of liquidating some stock should be done cautiously. He says that careful consideration needs to be given to the liquidation of female livestock, which will be needed for future expansion when conditions become more favourable.

‘Rebuilding a herd takes time, and a lack of breeding stock can compound this challenge,’ he explains. ‘Therefore long-term thinking by farmers regarding herd replenishment and farm viability, profitability and sustainability should guide their short-term decisions about female livestock liquidation to deal with coming climate challenges.’

Source: FNB Agribusiness

Publication: October 2023

Section: Pula/Imvula