When Robert Wallace visited Beaufort West in 1895, he found it an interesting area from an agricultural point of view. In Farming Industries of the Cape Colony, he writes: “The plains below the mountain have aromatic Karoo bushes suitable for grazing by sheep and goats, while on the top of the mountains, actually a new plateau, these bushes are mostly absent, so the grazing is better suited to cattle and horses.” He also mentions an interesting experiment in cultivation under a system of irrigation from a large dam. “This scheme allows a number of smallholders on two-acre plots to do very well growing a succession of farm crops and vegetables irrigated by water from the dam.” But, for the dam itself, he saw no future. “The Beaufort West irrigation dam was built by the municipality at a cost of £12 000. The money was borrowed from the Government at 6%. The irrigation community pays as much as £21 annual rent for their plots, but this only provides enough to cover interest on the loan. While the amount of money borrowed is not decreasing, the dam is rapidly filling with soil washed in from the Karoo-bush veld from where the water supply is drawn. This veld, furrowed and loosened on the surface is more easily denuded by the trampling of animals as they come and go to and from the dam to drink. In a comparatively short space of time, the dam will be filled and the Government will probably be expected to write off its loan,” he said.
He praised the town for its efforts at growing trees. “Oaks do not thrive because of the presence of brak (salt) in the soil, but Robinias and pear trees do exceptionally well. The mile-long main street is lined with healthy pear trees, making it a picture in spring.” The area to the north east of the town, towards Nelspoort, he said, was a rich alluvial plain with no lack of lime. “Good agricultural ground,” he said.
© Rose’s Roundup, vol. 2, no. 61, October 2008.
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