The Free State agricultural sector, just like the national agricultural sector, comprises of crop production, animal production, horticulture, dairy farming, game farming, aquaculture, fruit production and agro-processing. Approximately 14.5% of South Africa's commercial farming takes place in the province. This sector is critical to the well-being of the province, both as the provider of food and a major employer. Major crops are maize, soy beans, wheat, sorghum, sunflowers, potatoes, groundnuts and wool. The province also accounts for 90% of cherry production in South Africa.
About 40% of the country's potato yield comes from the high-lying areas of the Free State. The province produces about 100,000 tons of vegetables and 40,000 tons of fruit each year. The main vegetable is asparagus, both of the green and white varieties. Counter seasonality to Europe, the primary SA export market for horticultural and floricultural products, is in itself a competitive advantage. The temperate climate in the Eastern Free State lends itself to production of deciduous fruits such as apples, berries, cherries, peaches, plums and apricots.
Facts and figures
- The Free State Agricultural Union (VS Landbou) reports that the province has 7,515 farming units, the highest in the country.
- It accounts for 26.4% of South Africa's field crops and 15.9% of all its animals.
- The Free State is responsible for 15% of South Africa's gross agricultural income.
- The sector contributes approximately 7% to the provincial gross domestic product.
- Just over 90% of the province is agricultural land, with 32% of 11.6-million hectares classified as arable and 60% suitable for pasture.
- The province supplies significant proportions of the nation's sorghum (53%), sunflowers (45%), potatoes (33%), groundnuts (32%), dry beans (26%), wool (24%) and almost all of its cherries (90%).
- Red meat and dairy are other important products and game hunting is a fast-growing industry.
The agriculture sector holds the potential to help the Free State to expand its manufacturing sector through various initiatives that are in the pipeline such as the planned food processing park in Harrismith in the eastern Free State.