Laurens Schlebusch farms with crops and livestock in the Free State. Looking around his farmlands, he says the drought has almost certainly been broken.
He has just been driving through his crops of sunflower and maize. “Compared to last year, it looks much better. Our crops look good and the veld looks much better. We actually have veld for the cattle this year.”
In fact, the rain since Christmas has been so heavy that farmers have struggled to plant their lands because the ground has been too wet, said Schlebusch, who acts as Free State Agriculture’s regional representative for the Bloemfontein and larger Mangaung area.
But there has been no rain since the end of January and the farmers need more to finish off the season with a bang.
“There is potential on the field; we just need to complete that potential,” he said, adding that his maize crop could easily yield four tonnes per hectare if all goes well.
A decidedly wet start to the year has seen the Vaal Dam reach 100% capacity for the first time in several years. According to estimates, there could be a bumper maize crop — the largest in 36 years — and a record year for soybeans.
And it’s not just in his area. Agbiz agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo said: “The drought, looking at it now, is pretty much over. In many regions there has been high rainfall and we are expecting a bumper year for many crops.”
Instead of dragging the economy down, agriculture could add 0.4% to gross domestic product this financial year, said Sihlobo. That would be R17.6-billion of the current R4.4-trillion GDP.