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South Africa facing smallest crop since 2005 due to drought

South Africa could be facing its smallest crop in over a decade, a grimmer prediction by the local wine industry body than earlier assessments last November, mainly due to the persistent drought that has been ravaging the Western Cape area for months.

Vineyards in the Western Cape are hit hard by drought (Photo source: VinPro)

According to the industry body SAWIS (South African Wine Industry Information & Systems) a crop estimate in the second week of January has predicted an even smaller harvest than previous estimates at the end of November 2017 – possibly the smallest since 2005.

“The 2018 wine grape crop is expected to be the smallest since 2005, due to a decline in vineyard area, an ongoing drought and crop losses due to frost and hail,” said Francois Viljoen, manager of wine organisation Vinpro’s viticultural consultation service.

According to a report by the country’s news portal, Independent Online, the yields for 2018 harvest are expected to plunge by as much as 50%.

What has made the drought situation even worse are the strained water reserves from local dams. Drought conditions have been prevalent in the Western Cape for the third consecutive season with major dam levels currently around 26.6% full compared to 41.6% in 2017, according to VinPro.

Most producers depend on irrigation water from the various irrigation schemes that have been rationed since early in the 2017 growing season. Water quotas have been cut between 50-80%, it added.

“Virtually no rain fell during this period and many hot days (above 35°C) were recorded. Together with a persistent south-easterly wind, this increased the water consumption of vineyards,” said Francois Viljoen, consultation service manager of VinPro.

Speaking of the drought’s impact, Roland Peens, a director at local wine merchant, Wine Cellar, believes that the bulk wine industry would be affected the most, as it made up 90% of the industry in terms of volume produced.

The bulk wine sector could see yields go down 25% to 50% due to the persistent dry conditions, Peens estimated. However, the premium wine sector is doing relatively well.

According to VinPro, the Olifants River region in Western Cape is hit the hardest by the drought and producers in this region were allocated less than 17% of their usual water quota from the Clanwilliam dam (now only 19.9% full). The Orange River region is currently the only wine region not experiencing water shortages.

In addition to crop losses, the persistent drought could result in a shortage of seasonal workers during harvest period due to smaller crop. “This could lead to further unemployment and will have a negative impact on the social welfare in the different communities,” it wrote.

The South African wine industry is the ninth largest producer of wine in the world and contributes 4% to global production. The country exports 440 million litres of wine annually and sells 400 million litres locally.

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