NOW that both the Christmas and New Year holidays have come and gone and the persistent rains that rocked most of the high rainfall areas of the country in December appear to be finally abating, farmers should quickly pick from where they had left and complete planting, which had been in limbo thanks to the torrents.
f course most of the crops they will be planting from now going forward easily qualify for late crops but that is not a reason for them to throw in the towel, as there are chances the crops can reach maturity given that seasons have become very unpredictable and can either run late or end prematurely. It is a gamble worth taking!
However, the rule of thumb is that such farmers need to listen to the voice of reason religiously and where they had targeted long season varieties known for their knack of realising high yields, they should now use very short season varieties that can reach maturity in very short periods of time. Such farmers should also remember that their chances of getting maximum heat units necessary for giving impetus to the growth process in crops will be diminishing with each day that passes given that the month of December, which normally has the highest numbers of heat units is also gone.
Long season varieties require at least 150 days to mature while medium season varieties need 140 days with short season varieties needing just 132 days, which makes them the ideal candidates for all the late planting activities taking place now. This therefore means that farmers also need to revise their yields downwards since they will no longer be using their highly productive long-season varieties but half a loaf is always better than nothing and they will be better than those that have already given up citing their failure to plant during the targeted time frame.
Farmers must bear in mind that traditionally we start planting in November with the early crop being dry planted in October, so wrapping up all planting activities for crops like maize in the first week of January may not be miles off the mark if they incorporate the current climatic trends in their planning. In the past two or so seasons the rains did not come in October, as we are used to but delayed and only came way after the bigger chunk of the first half of the season (October to December) had already galloped away and farmers still went ahead and planted with many realising meaningful yields at the end of those ill-fated seasons. The 2020/21 season may not be very different.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that all farmers planting late have to contend with the fact that their crops will be susceptible to diseases and attacks by pests such as fall army worm and possibly a host of others compared to the early planted lot.
There will also be serious competition between weeds and the crops, as most weeds’ seeds would have been allowed the chance to germinate owing to the lavish rains that normally characterise the last stretch of the season.
This usually makes weed control exceptionally difficult forcing the farmers to devote more time to fighting the unwanted plants. The use of herbicides will also not yield much joy for the farmers, as rains usually wash the chemicals away most of the times.
Those farmers that are into winter wheat production and use the same pieces of land for both the summer and winter projects run the risk of failing to meet the planting deadlines for wheat, as they will still be harvesting the summer crop.
This means that they will be moving from one late summer crop to a late winter crop, which in most cases has a telling effect on the eventual yields.
Late planting always has negative implications on the final yields, as each day delayed entails a loss of 50kg of produce.
The other option farmers who failed to complete planting on the conventional dates can do is to turn to crops that can grow to maturity within the remaining time of the season so that they salvage some revenue and even consolidate their food reserves.
Crops such as sugar beans, soya beans and sweet potatoes have been known to do very well when planted during this time of the year.
Sugar beans is one crop that can be grown between January and February and still give good yields as well as good revenue after sale.
In fact, sugar beans naturally need to be planted around this time to allow flowering without losing the flowers through the action of rain drops, which will affect pollination translating to poor fruiting.
It is the commercial value of the crop that makes it a very good option for farmers that are behind time at the moment. The crop is also rich in proteins, which makes it crucial to have it as part of the food security matrix.
In recent years, demand for all these crops has grown significantly, which has seen large-scale farmers, for instance, getting involved in production of crops such as sweet potatoes, on a commercial scale.
Soya beans on the one hand, does not require as many days as maize to mature and with proper agronomic practices can produce good yields per hectare.
The crop is quite lucrative especially given that the country is not producing enough to satiate demand, which has seen the Government importing supplementary tonnages of the crop from neighbouring countries every year.
Farmers can also still plant sorghum in January and get good yields if they apply the proper fertiliser quantities as well as agronomic requirements of the crop.
It is therefore necessary for all farmers with the capacity to grow another crop besides maize to do so and help bolster both the household and national food security efforts the country is seized with.
In a way they will also participate in retooling the country’s agro-processing industry that can only be relevant if there are raw materials.