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FS irrigation crops negatively impacted by stage 6 load shedding

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The current heatwave 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 is causing great anxiety in the agricultural community at a critical time in the development of our crops.” says Francois Wilken, President of Free State Agriculture (FSA).

Kempen Nel, irrigation farmer and board member of FSA, confirms that maize plantings in the Oranje Riet Water Users Association (WUA) area are on the verge of a critical growth and development stage but “prolonged stage 6 load shedding prevents irrigation farmers from depositing enough water to meet the optimal needs of the plants.” Nel says that farmers in the area are very concerned about their yields and consequently financial loss due to load shedding.

Dr Jack Armour, commercial manager of FSA, 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 WUA. The current proposed solution of Load reduction is also not practical, according to Armour, as the expensive pumping equipment (starters) suffers great damage due to insufficient power inflow.

Wilken adds on that ESKOM’s operation and application of load shedding often harms the countryside. “Farmers and rural communities experience much longer hours of load shedding than what is experienced in the cities at the same level of load shedding. We would like to receive a clear answer about this injustice”, says Wilken.

Nel confirmed that Free State Agriculture has a scheduled meeting with ESKOM on 23 February to urgently address, 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 instructed Minister of Energy, Mr Ramokgopa, 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.”