El Niño effects still uncertain for South Africa
South African fruit growers are taking a 'wait-and-see' approach over the growing possibility that El Niño will cause an unusually dry summer in the country's northeast.
South African Weather Service metereologist Cobus Olivier, estimated there was a 60-70% probability El Niño would result in a lack of rainfall in the region.
"It could be detrimental to our rainfall. It depends on whether local sea surface temperatures dominate, if they do we might not see the typical effects of El Niño, which are drier conditions and less rain."
He said it was widely predicted that 1997's El Niño would affect crops resulting in farmers losing millions of rand but in fact the effects were relatively mild.
El Niño is a result of abnormal warming in the Equatorian Pacific with the potential to disrupt weather patterns across the across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
Bosveld Citrus managing director Piet Smit said his company, which has a high volume of Valencia and grapefruit orchards in the region, was not taking any special measures at the moment.
"Once you are sure you can look at your re-planting program to take out some trees earlier to save water. Fortunately, in production areas we have storage dams and if managed well they can take us through a season or two."
Bosveld Citrus is one of South Africa's largest citrus growers with a total of 500 hectares of Valencias and grapefruits, exporting six million 15 kilogram cartons a year.
Exporter Core Fruit technical manager Steve Turner agreed it was too early to start taking action.
"Obviously we know about El Niño and we are concerned about it, but there's not a whole lot you can do.If you feel quite confident it is happening you can take precautionary methods."
Turner said the 1991-2 El Niño which sparked serious droughts in South Africa resulted in northeastern farmers abandoning their older orchards in a bid to rescue their younger trees.
"To start with any concrete contingecy plans is a little bit speculative. Until you are in it, it's difficult to justify doing anything radical."
Other parts of South Africa, such as the Western Cape, are not expected to be affected as they benefit from rain in the winter months.
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