Fergus Robley is the General Manager of FMD East Africa, the distributor of Massey Ferguson. He spoke to Francis Mureithi on jitters in the industry and tips on using machines
Rate the use of machinery in Kenya. Is it growing, stagnated or going down?
The use of agricultural machinery in the last two years has deviated from the upward trend we witnessed since 2009. This is mainly due to the weather- related challenges and the capping of interest rates that have hampered the farmers’ ability to access finance.
What are the best planting practices when using machines?
The importance of calibration of planters is key to get the correct plant population so that every seed that germinates into a plant enjoys mutual support from its neighbour to help get high yields.
The other important factor is the actual set up of the planter to make sure the seed is at the right depth and the fertiliser placement is either beside or just below to avoid burning the cotyledon during germination.
For maize and beans, it is also important that the machine is kind on the seed, that is, it does not chip it, as once cut, it will not germinate.
The best way to protect against this is to make sure that the mechanisms for metering the seeds are made of the right materials.
Another safety measure to the planter is the addition of graphite powder with the seed to help lubricate the flow of seed.
The cost of acquiring tractors and other machines remains very high. What can be done to enable farmers get them easily?
We live in a world where we want more for less. It is very hard to produce quality and durable machinery at a low cost and expect good returns.
Some manufacturers offer low cost equipment. However, this is achieved by reducing specifications of the material. The constant battle to try and achieve pocket sensitive pricing has seen counterfeits and substandard machines flood the Kenyan market.
FMD has moved manufacturing to the east to help reduce costs. But to help farmers get quality machinery, terms and conditions for finance can be addressed.
Apart from planting, machines are also used for weeding, spraying, harvesting and processing produce. Any advice while using machines to do these tasks?
To get the most out of mechanised farming and reduce yield limiting factors, it is important to set up implements, spraying and harvesting equipment correctly.
For example, with mechanical weed control, it is important that this is not overdone, as we see all too often with disc harrows where soil structure is destroyed.
For spraying, it is important to maintain and calibrate the sprayers so that the rates of application are in line with the agri-chemical manufacturers recommendations.
Too much chemical can burn the crop and too little allows diseases or pests to survive and mutate getting around the chemicals.
Post-harvest loss is a major yield limiting factor normally caused by incorrect settings, fast harvest speeds and poorly maintained machinery.
Processing needs the correct setting of machinery to maximise the conversion rate from raw product to consumable food.
There is a general belief among farmers that machines introduce diseases in their shambas. What is your advice?
Machines do not introduce diseases on farms. It is the lack of cleaning and servicing at the end of a season and then going through pre-season that leads to diseases.
With good cleaning and servicing, machines will not be hosts for diseases and parasites.
Which is the best available mechanised technology for land preparation?
For land preparation, again the more for less maxim applies. Kenyan farmers should be looking at reducing tillage to preserve and allow the soil to perform.
This is a huge topic but in summary, if farmers embrace appropriate good practices with conservation tillage in mind, our yields will increase significantly.
In some of the land trials that we have done with our machinery, we have seen maize yields of more than 40 bags an acre, where the control using the traditional method has been harvested at nine to 11 bags.
This shows that quality machinery and good farming practices can increase the yield by three to four times in a rain-fed environment.
What tips would you give to farmers using planters or any other machine for the first time?
If you are using machinery for the first time it is important to do two things.
a) Read the instruction manual.
b) Get a qualified expert, or technician from the supplier to show you how to set up the machine.