Bfn’s farmers bear the brunt

Eat JJ’s farmers are Boelie Griesel, Fanie Griesel, and Ruan Prins. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

With the deepening of the national energy crisis, various sectors have been crippled by the increased load-shedding and the permanent implementation thereof. Local farmers have had to ensure that they do not find themselves in the dark with huge losses in production and the quality of their production.

Bloemfontein Courant visited the farm [Eat JJ’s] of Boelie Griesel just outside the city to find out how they have been coping with endless power cuts and load-shedding. The farmer, who specialises in egg, feed, and vegetable production, and supplies products to major supermarkets, said they have spent thousands to ensure that all their production lines run smoothly.

Chicken Coup at Eat JJ’s farm just outside the city. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

“For the egg production we need electricity 24 hours, 7 days a week to keep the chickens’ coup cool. If it is hot when there is a power cut and the generators do not start, the chickens [of which they have about 100 000] can die within 30 minutes to an hour,” said Griesel.

He added that their generators run on at least 50 litres of diesel per hour, which is an additional expense. “It cost us about R124 000 in December alone to keep everything going.”

One of the back-up generators on the farm. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

Load-shedding also has an impact on the production of their vegetables. “We lost about 20 hectares and had to plant less to ensure we have enough water. This has a big impact on the market because we are already producing 20 to 30% less because of load-shedding. Our loss is about R600 000 and in addition to that, we spent R500 000 on a new generator.”

The final steps in the egg production system where workers package the eggs for
delivery. PHOTO: Gypseenia Lion

Griesel explained that food security is a major issue and they would like to raise awareness of how much electricity impacts agriculture. “Every step of our production line is mechanically operated and is fully reliant on electricity. We hope to get solar panels so we can at least run on solar during the night and still make use of Eskom during the day. We still need them, they just need to give us a little more support and speed up the process of solar approval.”

Chris Briedenhann from Bainsvlei Poultry Pty Ltd, said that because the situation was not getting any better the commercial layer farm, which has up to 90 000 chickens in production, had to find ways to survive without Eskom. “We were introduced to ENFIN (Electricity Finance). For the past six months, they are our main power provider. They basically replaced Centlec. They funded the whole project and we only pay what we use. They installed a 515kW battery and 250kWh solar panels,” he said. The project took two months to complete. “We are basically 90% off the grid, seeing the temperatures were quite high and the chickens needed a constant airflow to control the temperature.”

Bainsvlei Poutry is 90% off the grid. PHOTO: Supplied

Briedenhann added that the farm needs about 200kW more battery life to survive through the night during the summer. “It’s sad to think that we must seek alternative solutions for one of our greatest power providers, but it’s definitely the way of the future and maybe it’s all we need to make our lives much easier and more sustainable.”

According to Free State Agriculture’s Commercial Affairs Committee chairman, Kempen Nel, both the availability and rising costs of Eskom’s electricity and protecting food security are forcing farmers to consider their own solutions.

“This remains an expensive and impractical challenge because backup power supplies are up to 10 times more expensive.”

Watch the video below to see how heavily reliant egg production is on electricity:

Justine Fortuin & Gypseenia Lion