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All South Africans are affected and impacted by loadshedding in one way or another, and the current crisis has quite a history, said Mariette Kotzé, Hortgro’s Operational Manager during the welcoming of producers and other stakeholders at an industry webinar that focused on the current energy crisis.

Kotzé said that the recent turn of events with increased and ongoing higher levels of loadshedding (stage 4 and higher) have had a serious negative impact on agriculture resulting in irrigation disruptions and interruptions of the cold chain and packhouse operations at critical times with the resultant loss in fruit quality and productivity. This has significant financial implications for our producers and affiliated industries, especially on the back of some very challenging past seasons.

Kotzé said Hortgro has joined forces with other industries through the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, Agri-Western Cape, AgriSA, Agbiz as well as FruitSA to drive awareness and appreciation of the severe impact of the energy crisis on the fruit industry at the highest level at both provincial and national government.  “High-level discussions are ongoing with the aim to find short, medium, and long-term solutions.

“Hortgro also appointed the Bureau for Food and Agriculture Policy (BFAP) to assist the industry in quantifying the impact of loadshedding so that we can propose and bargain a differentiated dispensation for fruit from a well-informed position.  The data captured and the proposed dispensation will include on-farm operations, packaging, cooling as well as manufacturing of critical inputs.”

She said that the plans on the table are not new and some, like the adjustment of loadshedding schedules to minimize interruptions, have been discussed with Eskom for at least five years. “Unfortunately, there are some technical limitations that make it difficult to implement a differentiated approach at an Eskom level. Organized agriculture and industry structures now need to rather initiate discussions at municipal and provincial level to investigate the extent to which load shedding schedules can be adapted to have the least negative impact on farming and business operations.”

Kotzé said that the energy crisis is a complex issue, and the webinar would consider:

  1. The context/extent of what we are dealing with – what is the likely scenario for the short- to medium-term?
  2. Consider what we can do ourselves in the short, medium, and long-term to navigate the crisis and minimise the impact on our business from an irrigation perspective.

Well-known political analyst JP Landman provided context on the South African energy crisis and explained how commercial power supply operates in South Africa.  According to Landman, loadshedding will be with South Africans for at least another two years.

Landman addressed the question of how South Africa ended up in such a dire situation. “Initially Eskom was an engineering company, with engineers that made the decisions. However, starting in 2010, the financial director of Eskom at the time started cutting maintenance budgets. In 2015 the new financial director cut the maintenance budget by R50 Billion.  Maintenance was not conducted at the required level and because of that, we are sitting with power stations that cannot operate to their full capacity.

Landman provided a timeline of the advent of loadshedding that has led us to the present moment.

Despite the dark picture, every cloud has a silver lining, said Landman. “Loadshedding is ‘that crisis’ that will force a change that otherwise would probably not have happened, or had taken a decade to shift.”

The change that he anticipates is a move from a government monopoly to a more open market in electricity generation and trading ―where electricity is supplied in a free market environment, many producers can generate electricity and consumers can choose from whom to buy it. “South Africa’s new form of gold will be in green energy.”

Watch Landman’s presentation here.


Koos Bouwer, industrial engineer with decades of on-farm experience, recommended that producers start by compiling a short-term business plan.

“Ask yourself what the potential downfalls and losses are in terms of the loss in crop or income to the farm. This must be compared to how much you can invest to solve your energy problems.  Every producer has access to a certain energy allocation on an Eskom line and producers should first optimise the use of the allocated power before considering more expensive options such as the use of generators. To make optimal usage of Eskom you might need automated irrigation systems or paying people overtime to irrigate outside of normal work hours.”

He said that farmers could additionally look at other solutions such as:

  1. Diesel generators
  2. Solar electricity
  3. Energy storage/ Lithium batteries
  4. Storing water at elevated dams

“The investment in water elevation is more cost-effective and is more sustainable over the long-term,” Bouwer said.   


Develop a long-term strategy. Start by asking questions such as:

  1. Where are you now?
  2. Where do you want to be in five years from now?
  3. Are you going to depend on Eskom or generating/buying your own energy?

Bouwer said that energy and water go together on an irrigation farm. Therefore, you need to know how much water is needed in an orchard and use water effectively. “The more water is used, the more energy is used; water wasted is energy wasted.” He urged farmers to assess water productivity, i.e., the income generated per unit of water applied.

Bouwer further discussed different sub-systems and suggested an integrated approach. Watch Koos Bouwer’s tips here.

Alex Blaker from Mouton Citrus said that in terms of long-term solutions growers need an energy strategy. “You need to assess beforehand how your business would handle stage 4, stage 6 and/or stage 8; and prepare for every scenario. You need good data to make informed decisions and designs regarding energy.”

According to Blaker the three critical data aspects that need consideration are:

  • Reliability of energy supply.
  • Quality of energy supply. Assess the voltage variations – sometimes these are quite significant. This could create problems for sensitive equipment such as packing equipment.
  • Quantity of energy supply. Can Eskom supply you with enough power to do want you need to do? If the answer is no, then you need to find another solution. Mouton Citrus did just that by consolidating the power grid at one large supply point, and they then built their own mini-grid from where they reticulated the power back to different points (packhouses/pump houses).

Watch Blaker here and listen to key lessons learned.


Well-known Ceres producer Rossouw Cillié placed emphasis on taking control of your own power usage. He offered the following ideas and practical solutions:

  • There isn’t a one size fits all solution but there are guidelines that can be used.
  • There aren’t easy and cheap solutions and quick solutions come at a very high cost.
  • How can you best make use of Eskom power when it is available?
  • “Elevated battery dams” must be planned in such a way so that pressure is optimally utilised, at the right pressure height.
  • Dams should be filled when power is available so that an effective use of a gravity-fed system is available in times of need.
  • Are the pipelines in use the right thickness to minimise friction in the pipes and over distance? Increased friction increases the electricity required to pump the water.
  • Power generators are not a sustainable or long-term solution, but rather a last resort. In addition to the cost of diesel, their effect on the carbon footprint and carbon tax needs to be considered.
  • Consider the time of use (during day or night) as this determines the profitability of a system.
  • Solar power also fluctuates so integration is necessary with Eskom, generators, and battery backup to supply power when the sun is not shining.
  • Battery storage for solar power systems looks to be the best option. Things to keep in mind include cost implications (which are very high), storage capacity and or backup time required.
  • Consider the use of mobile units that can be assembled and disassembled so that they can be moved to different locations as needed.

Cillié said that producers need to seek and create long-term opportunities, work together to build capacity, and share data to move the industry forward faster. Watch Cillié’s presentation here.

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