Adapting to drought

I’m often asked how we’re coping with the extreme drought the Western Cape has experienced over the last 2 years and the imminent water restrictions likely this summer. It’s not all doom & gloom on the slopes of the Stellenbosch & Helderberg mountains. We are a higher rainfall area with an average of 904mm per annum compared to around 700mm in most of Stellenbosch.

Although we only received 53% our normal rainfall this winter, it was enough to fully saturate the soil ahead of bud break. It should be remembered that the water that fills the dams for cities and agriculture is essentially the excess water. Thankfully the environment soaks up its share first.

We farm close to dry land, with an irrigation system in place to supplement mid-summer if necessary in the very dry years, and a little at veraison to relieve stress in most years. We foresee a close to normal season ahead, but have adopted a belts & braces approach and we’re giving a little water now, pre-bloom, for the first time. I would like to ensure the soil profile is wet at a deep level to act as a buffer, if we do have an extreme hot, dry summer. (Ironically it is pouring with rain as I write this!)

This graph illustrated 2017’s rainfall against the average since 1991 as measured on the farm. It shows that we have had 431mm of rain this year, only 53% of the average 811mm. The last three months have been looking slightly better with a combined rainfall of 198mm, 71% of the average 279mm.

Growth is looking very good & healthy and at this stage there is no reason why we can’t have a normal harvest in terms of quantity. If the weather plays along in the next dew critical months, it can be an exceptional 2018.

If you are interested in adapting to drought take a look at this excellent article by Lucinda Heyns here.

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