Plumbing the depths is one way of describing how Nuwepos farm manager, Pieter Krynauw, is surviving a crippling drought that has left the region powder dry.
The seasonal rains of August and September, which usually fill the dams on farms around Vanrhynsdorp in the shadow of the Matzikamma and Gifberg Mountains, north of Cape Town, simply did not arrive this year.
But Pieter is not deterred. The cliché, ‘”n boer maak ‘n plan” (a farmer makes a plan) holds true as far as saving his 106 ha of vineyards is concerned.
“We have had to implement a number of strategies,” he says. “We have six boreholes on the farm of which five are being used and one is being kept in reserve. However, the longer we use our underground water, the saltier it becomes.
“To prevent this saline water damaging the grapes we have been pumping the water into the farm dams and leaving it there to settle, which reduces the salt content – and only then pumping the water to the vineyards.”
Pieter has also altered the manner of drip-feeding his vines. He has been forced to use both feeds at the same time and irrigate at night.
And to retain the lifeblood of water feeding the roots of the vines, Pieter and his farmworkers have been hand “mulching” the soil at the base of each vine – to retain moisture in the soil as long as possible.
Pieter is confident that Nuwepos and the valuable SAFE grape crop will survive, come what may. He is reassured by the fact that the six boreholes on the farm can be extended from their current 100 metres depth to at least 150 metres to draw every last drop of water he can get to feed the vines.
“Farming is tough,” says Pieter. “To survive, we have no choice. We just keep going, doing the best we can…”.
Nuwepos has106ha under table grapes, of which 9ha are new varietals. They also have 4.5ha raisin producing grapes but have been forced to reduce their sheep population by 40%.
“The whole country is feeling the impact of the drought”, says Pieter. “We had to reduce the number of sheep on the farm as sourcing feed is getting more and more difficult.”
Little did Pieter know when, in an interview on his appointment to Nuwepos last year, he said, “I have been farming table grapes for 18 years. Adapting to conditions at Vanrhynsdorp won’t be that difficult. I am looking forward to meeting them.”
Prophetic words indeed.