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Agriculture

 Farming in Vanwyksdorp and The Klein Karoo

The economy of the Vanwyksdorp and the Little Karoo in general relies primarily on agriculture with tourism its secondary source of income. Since the 1880’s and the early 20th century’s feather boom, Oudtshoorn and its surrounding areas have always been known for its ostrich farms, says Jacques de Beer, Pam Golding Properties area principal in the Klein Karoo.

“It is understandable that, with the outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain (Bird-flu) in Oudtshoorn during 2011, our Klein Karoo economy was exposed. The European Union (EU) placed an export ban on South African’s ostrich meat. Thousands of ostriches had to be slaughtered, however, not with everyone’s approval. The world famous ostrich show farm, Highgate, also had to close its doors due to all their ostriches being slaughtered. The EU ban remains in place and has accounted for more than 50 percent of ostrich farmers leaving the former R2 billion a year industry. Before the ban, the Klein Karoo region was producing about 170 000 slaughter birds a year, which represented about 70 percent of ostrich meat consumption worldwide, most of it destined for the EU,” says de Beer.

He says there is a well-known Afrikaans expression:  “’n Boer maak ‘n plan!” and although water is scarce in the semi-arid Klein Karoo, it is a fertile farming area. “Since the bird-flu outbreak we’ve seen the tenacity of our farmers and their ability to adapt come to the fore. Diversification has been the slogan through these challenging times and we have noticed farmers increasing their sheep share of the farm where possible. Some have introduced cattle, boerbok and even Springbok.

“Farmers with access to irrigation have introduced lucerne or increased their lucerne productions substantially. Some farmers are returning to tobacco farming and a substantial number of farmers are now producing vegetable seed. Some big ostrich farmers have negotiated profitable lucerne deals with horse farmers throughout the Cape region. Ostrich farmers have also transformed most of their conventional ostrich business to exporting cooked ostrich meat.  Worldwide ostrich feather prices have also risen and fortunately this avenue subsidises some loss on other ostrich exports.”

De Beer says unfortunately, some of the smaller ostrich farmers had to sell out to the bigger players. “We still have many ostrich breeding farms throughout the Klein Karoo, but have also noticed ostrich farmers flourishing in the Swellendam and Riversdale areas. Farms vary in size. Smaller farms from 500ha to 1000ha are viable only if the farms have at least 10 percent of its size producing lucerne under irrigation and the rest veld. The older traditional big ostrich farmers still manage farms of over 5000ha.

“We have also seen ostrich and other farms come onto the market at reasonable prices. Some of them had ostriches, but can now be converted to lucerne producing farms, livestock or lifestyle farms. We have experienced a sudden increase in demand for large game farms or large farms with enough ‘veld’ to be converted into game farms. These buyers are from upcountry, from those looking to buy farms to breed buffalo and other scarce game species,” he says.

Pam Golding Properties Klein Karoo currently has a 16 000ha farm with enough water and well equipped for sale at R62 million. Says de Beer: “We also have three exceptional game farms for sale ranging between 3500ha and 8000ha and priced from R14 million. Throughout the Klein Karoo smaller farms between 6ha and 200ha are being acquired for less than R2 million as lifestyle farms, some with spectacular views over the Swartberg and Outeniqua Mountains and other situated in idyllic settings. These farms are popular because they are generally easily accessible and close to a town and therefore schools and other amenities. The Klein Karoo’s number one draw card is still the quality of life with clean air, pure water, a low crime rate, quality schools and simple life.”

Sales in the marketplace in general include a 100ha eco-farm acquired for R2.2 million by a buyer from George, as well as a few guest smallholding transactions in the area, including an 11ha guest smallholding sold by PGP for R690 000. De Beer says notably, PGP is receiving more enquiries on big commercial farms than in the last five years. These farms vary in size from 2500ha to 4500ha and are priced from R4.6 million to R17 million.  

Van Wyksdorp Institute Van Wyksdorp Institute

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