Farmer Focus: Cover crops key to manage weather extremes

It is winter in South Africa, and a cold one at that. Winter is our dry season, so not much grows now – it is either too cold or too dry for growth. 

Winter also marks the end of the cropping season; everything is harvested and we are preparing for next summer’s growing season.

On a personal note, it is also the end of a season for me, as this is the last Farmer Focus piece I will write.

See also: Hants grower focuses on sustainable farming as support fades

Anyone who has read a few of my previous pieces will know that I am passionate about no-till and cover cropping. I feel that these two management practices are the key to increasing a farm’s organic matter content in the soil. Improved organic matter is one of the cornerstones to increase yield and profitability.

In South Africa we have very hot summers with very intense thunderstorms. Plant material on the soil surface helps to insulate the soil from the harsh sun. It also serves as a buffer to absorb the energy of raindrops, allowing the rain to infiltrate the soil as opposed to running off the soil surface, exporting some of my farm with it.

The organic matter in the soil acts as a sponge, absorbing water and slow-releasing it back into the system as the crop requires it.

There are no farm subsidies in South Africa. If a drought comes along, tough luck, there is no scheme to bail you out. This makes it even more important to make every drop count.

In 2017, the ruling ANC party resolved to change the country’s constitution to allow them to expropriate property without compensation.

Property is quite a loose term and could be anything from a house, a farm to a pension fund, or maybe just all of the above.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, they have recently stated that this expropriation without compensation process must be fast-tracked to help kickstart the economy.

I love South Africa, despite all of its challenges, both environmental and political. I encourage all of you to visit this country and I can guarantee you will have the time of your life.