The South African agriculture and land minister Thoko Didiza has urged wine growers in the Western Cape to embrace automation in the industry.

The call comes in an effort to deal with the loss of low paid labourers who have left the region's agricultural industries since the onset of majority rule in 1994.

The minister said that there was a need to inject new practices, techniques and machinery into the industry, adding that wine and fruit farmers were in a better position to investigate new ideas and innovations since they enjoyed a greater exposure to the international markets.

He said that the mechanisation of wine growing was important to "offset the loss of farm labour" in the Western Cape, which has declined by 20,000 since 1994, because of booming urbanisation.

The region's wine and fruit farms account for one-fifth of the nation's farm labour force. Didzia suggested farmers "reposition, convert and adjust to the ideas and innovations developed overseas."

Richard Hurst