Power cuts dim the hopes of SA’s farmers

South Africa’s rotational power cuts, known as loadshedding, are having a devastating effect on the country’s agricultural sector, including the poultry industry.

Daily power cuts of several hours at a time have been the norm in recent weeks as unit failures at power stations have meant electricity utility Eskom cannot always meet demand. Over the past week, the country has experienced one of its worst periods of blackouts.

The electricity crisis has been bad news for the economy, and for the agricultural sector. Poultry and citrus producers have been among those affected.

AgriSA, the biggest federation of agricultural organisations in South Africa, said the impact of ongoing power outages on the agricultural sector and the wider economy holds serious implications for food security in the country.

“Electricity is central to modern farming practices, and the recent increase in load shedding has seriously disrupted farming operations. Pumping stations, irrigation, cooling and other systems all depend on power supply,” said AgriSA.

While some farmers had the means to move away from the power grid, most were unable to do so. This was especially true for the most vulnerable small-scale farmers.

The constant outages are reportedly causing massive damage and disruptions to the “cold chain” – the process of keeping produce refrigerated through its supply chain process. AgriSA said that retailers are now starting to reject fresh produce, mainly vegetables, due to delays in delivery.

The impact of load shedding on the poultry industry was highlighted by the SA Poultry Association’s Izaak Breitenbach in an interview with Business Report.

He said abattoirs were big consumers of electricity. Chicken carcasses needed to be cooled to below 7 degrees centigrade within 45 minutes of being slaughtered. The meat was then cut and put into cold storage or a freezer.

Many companies used generators during power cuts, but this was expensive. At an abattoir slaughtering a million birds per week, generators could cost R100 000 an hour to operate.

The citrus industry is similarly affected. In addition to cold storage issues as new European Union regulations loom, power cuts affected farmers’ ability to harvest and pack fruit, just as the industry moves into peak harvest season.

However the prime concern remains cold storage, and the expensive use of generators at export harbours. The EU has just published measures to require South African citrus to be stored at extreme cold conditions, and continuing power cuts will post a huge risk to the industry.