SOUTH AFRICA – Viticulturists and producer cellars in South Africa have indicated in the latest crop estimate that the 2023 wine grape harvest–from January to April–is estimated to be smaller at this early stage – perhaps the fourth smallest crop in 17 years.

According to the Vinpro team of viticulturists and South African Wine Industry Information and Systems (Sawis), a warmer spring and dry soil conditions over the season have resulted in budding occurring earlier than usual.

The evenness of budding was satisfactory, except for certain cultivars such as Chardonnay, where budding was uneven in some areas.

Flowering also occurred earlier than normal in most vineyards and large differences occurred during the set of cultivars.

In addition, high disease pressure, especially the resultant powdery mildew infections in the Northern Cape, Olifants River, Swartland, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Cape South Coast, and Cape Town, will also negatively impact the crop size.

Heat peaks in December and January also caused sunburn, especially in the Swartland, Worcester, and Breedekloof. Vineyard uprooting, especially the Northern Cape, Olifants River, and Swartland were also cited as reasons for the expected decrease in production.

“Across all regions, the lack of electricity will further negatively impact the crop size,” said Conrad Schutte, manager of the Vinpro team of viticulturists.

Over the last 15 years, Eskom Holdings, which provides 90% of South Africa’s electricity, has kept its grid from collapsing by cutting power when it cannot meet demand.

Known locally as “loadshedding,” these planned blackouts mainly affected mining operations and heavy industry until last year, when they became much more widespread.

As the utility has struggled under a leadership crisis, its assets have deteriorated from age, lack of maintenance, and even vandalism, all of which pushed outages to record levels in 2022.

Among those affected are farmers, as producers of cold chain products (temperature regulated) cannot guarantee shelf life as it is.

Farmers who also use irrigation cannot sustainably produce with diesel and some potato farmers have threatened to stop production because of their inability to irrigate.

However, the South African government recently moved to pass a suspension of load shedding in various farming areas in the North West following the devastating impact of load shedding on farmers whose livelihoods came under threat.

At the same time, the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry has amplified the chorus calling for an end to loadshedding warning that the country could be eyeing a food crisis if the causes of the rolling blackouts, which plunge South Africans into darkness daily and threaten the already fragile economy, are not urgently resolved.

The chamber said there are reports that up to 25% of South Africa’s staple food harvest, maize, is wilting in the fields due to power disruptions in the northern parts of the country.

The chamber is hopeful the “government’s willingness to allow more private sector involvement in the energy space, will accelerate much-needed innovation and help grow the green economy and alleviate future problems encountered.

South Africa’s National Treasury has reportedly approved the City of Cape Town’s electricity cash-for-power plan”.

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