In addition to Eskom’s schedule of rolling blackouts across South Africa, which reached Stage 6 in early July, farmers in Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga have also been hit by severe and unscheduled power outages referred to as ‘load reduction’.
Deidre Carter, CEO of Agri Limpopo, said one of the organisation’s members had reported losing about 2 000 broiler chickens in a single day due to Eskom’s unilateral load-reduction strategy, while another had decided to leave the poultry industry altogether.
“Load reduction is a lot worse than [rolling blackouts], because one never knows when or how long the power will be out,” she told Farmer’s Weekly.
“While [rolling blackouts] are implemented nationwide when energy demand exceeds Eskom’s generating capacity, the load-reduction programme is aimed at addressing localised distribution problems due to overloading caused by illegal connections, [the bypassing of meters], and tampering with electricity infrastructure,” Carter said.
“The problem is that the power of law-abiding citizens is also being cut in the process. A [snap] survey among our Agri Limpopo members showed that 146 farmers out of 154 were experiencing unscheduled power outages on their farms.”
Izaak Breitenbach, general manager of the South African Poultry Association’s Broiler Organisation, told Farmer’s Weekly that for an abattoir with a slaughtering capacity of about one million chickens per week, the cost of running generators was about R100 000 per hour during rolling blackouts.
“Furthermore, from a logistical point of view, there can be up to 10 000 carcasses hanging up in an abattoir at the various points of processing, at any given time.
“If the temperature of these carcasses rises, they become a health and safety risk, and the abattoir will have to dispose of them, leading to additional material losses.”
These losses were further compounded during unplanned power outages or load reduction, Breitenbach said.
“You cannot simply switch on a generator and start up the process in five minutes. It takes time and planning to get everything up and running. Realistically, it will take an abattoir [about one] hour to switch all its systems [over] from the main powerline to generators. And during this time the factory is losing money.
“Incubators are even more sensitive to power supply dips,” Breytenbach explained.
“This [equipment] is accurate to within 0,2ºC. If the system is 0,2ºC too hot or 0,2ºC too cold, the embryos will die. It’s basically impossible to keep these [chicks] alive if the power is simply switched off without warning.”
Carter added that while power outages due to load reduction led to increased mortalities, an inability to pump water for human or animal consumption further undermined a farm’s profitability, and also weighed on farmworkers’ morale.
Kulani Siweya, senior economist at Agri SA, said Eskom initially only announced that it would implement load reduction in areas of Gauteng that were well-known for the prevalence of illegal power connections.
“Later on [Eskom] started including Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West in this plan, but it was not communicated clearly [to those involved].”
Siweya said Agri SA and its provincial affiliates were in discussions with Eskom to see whether a sensible resolution to the matter could be found.
However, Carter said government had to intervene to urgently develop a coherent plan to address the root causes of Eskom’s unilaterally implemented load reduction strategy.
“Farmers cannot continue to absorb costs associated with poor and failing governance. The continued sustainability, let along growth and global competitiveness of the agriculture sector, is at stake.”