Continuing drought and low water supplies in the Western Cape may lead to South Africa’s smallest wine grape harvest since 2005, when 1.15-million tonnes were harvested owing to drought and diseases in some production areas.
Industry body South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (Sawis) on Friday said the latest estimates show an even smaller harvest than what was estimated at the end of November.
South Africa, the world's ninth-largest wine producer, produced an estimated 1.43-million-tonne wine grape crop in 2017 and, while Sawis did not give a figure for 2018, it said this year’s crop would likely be less than that of 2017.
Wine industry organisation Vinpro consultation service manager Francois Viljoen added that the declining trend predicted in the past two months could be mainly attributed to the warm and dry weather conditions that occurred in early December.
“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.”
These conditions have been prevalent in the Western Cape for the third consecutive season, with major dam levels currently at around 26.6%, compared with 41.6% in 2017.
The City of Cape Town has also restricted residents to using 50 ℓ/d of water, with taps in the city expected to run dry by April 22, an event that is being called Day Zero.
Some sources have said Day Zero may happen even earlier.
“Cape Town’s average daily collective consumption is still too high. It has increased to 618-million litres a day‚ up from 578-million litres a day (since the first week of January),” The Citizen quoted Mayor Patricia de Lille as saying.
Most wine producers depend on irrigation water from the various water schemes, which have been subject to rationing since early in the 2017 growing season. Water quotas have been cut by between 50% and 80%.
“This available water is simply not enough to meet the needs of the vineyards at this stage, which are now beginning to show symptoms of water shortages and declining berry growth. Smaller berries mean a lighter harvest with lower juice levels which contribute to lower volumes,” said Viljoen.
“This challenging season does have a negative impact on producers' income potential, but lower stock levels and smaller international crop yields now also provide the opportunity to give momentum to a structural income adjustment,” said Vinpro MD Rico Basson.
“Businesses now have to focus on the appropriate packaging of what they have to offer when discussing price points. Opportunities created by the drought crisis must be fully exploited to benefit the producer in the long term."
Meanwhile, as an important provider of permanent and seasonal work in the agricultural industry, the drought will also have an impact on especially seasonal workers as the harvest period will be shorter owing to the smaller crop. This could lead to further unemployment and will have a negative impact on social welfare in the different communities.
“Timely action and cooperation between local governments and other private initiatives are an unquestionable reality,” said Basson.
“This is a difficult time for agriculture, with the sector being hit hard by persistent drought,” said Western Cape Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde.
“To date, the Department of Agriculture has invested R67-million in drought relief to support farmers to keep their businesses running.
“In the wine sector, which has not come away unscathed, reduced rain has however meant an improvement in the quality of our produce, giving us a clear competitive edge in international markets.”
The local wine industry contributes 4% to global production, with the country exporting 440-million litres of wine a year and selling 400-million litres a year locally.