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Monday, May 24, 2010

Ag on the Western Cape

“Goeie More” or Hello from South Africa! For the past 5 days I explored and adventured abroad in the Cape Town countryside learning about foreign agriculture and animal science. My first day in Cape Town I strolled the streets of Stellenbosch, did some shopping, wine tasting and visited a Hereford farm. Unlike the U.S., very few Angus were raised in this area. The farmers consider them too wild, therefore there are thousands of Herefords and indigenous breeds roaming the African plains. Lamb and wool production are also quite prevalent here. However, farmers don’t choose to produce only one of the commodities. They raise a breed called Dohne-Merino which is a dual-purpose breed for the production of high quality wool and meat.

Days 2-5 consisted of viewing Nguni cattle (pictured above), going on a springbok hunt, climbing Table Mountain and getting soaked by the waves on the shores of the Cape of Good Hope. All of these experiences have been priceless but being ]in Cape Town has also opened my eyes to the blessings we have as American citizens. I won’t ramble on and on but I will briefly summarize some disadvantages of being a farmer in South Africa:
  • South African farmers receive absolutely no subsidies – regardless of crop or specie produced. This aspect leaves them without a cushion and unprotected from volatile markets. 
  • On a good year South African farmers are able to produce almost enough food to feed their country. This is a country that is 2x the size of Texas but has only 12% arable land for crop production. They very rarely have any surplus to export unlike the United States which exports foodstuffs to almost every country in the world. 
  • The average rainfall in South Africa is only 492 mm (19.62 inches). However, parts of the Western Cape receive less than 10 inches per year. Compare that to an average rainfall of 17 inches in western KS and 40 inches in southeast Kansas and you have an idea of what South African farmers are dealing with. 
  • A new practice being put into place by the government is redistribution of farmland from large farms to inexperienced farmers to help them become productive members of the industry. This process is similar to eminent domain in the U.S. however, the land being redistributed (40% of each farm) is not being purchased at a fair price. This government action has caused several farmers to move to the northern countries of Africa or to sell their farms completely to avoid having 40% purchased for meager prices.
These are daily tribulations that farmers in South Africa must endure to feed their families and stay in business. It’s important to look at other agricultural situations so that we don’t lose sight of the fact that we are the most agriculturally productive country in the world.

Until next time

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