Agronomist notebook: Don’t blame it on the rain if your maize gets mould

Wednesday March 18 2020
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A farm employeee harvests maize in a farm in Nyahururu, Laikipia County. Timely harvesting reduces contamination on the farm; while harvesting during the dry season makes most of the grains to be stored well, sometimes prolonged rain season may force a farmer to harvest during the rains. PHOTO | JOSEPH KURIA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ANN MACHARIA

Popular Germany’s music group, Milli Vanilla, remains one of the best acts of our time despite reigning in the 80s and 90s.
One of their most successful songs is Blame it on the rain...does it ring a bell.

Well, I remembered this song when I visited maize farmer Eliud in Elburgon in Nakuru County, recently, where he lamented his produce was rotting on the farm because of the heavy rains. Eliud talked about how the rains had made harvesting impossible as the roads were impassable.

“All the maize is rotting on the farm. My investment is going down the drain,” he said, reminding me of Milli Vanila and the hit song Blame it on the rain.

As the weather changes and becomes extremely unpredictable, it is obvious that the rains would continue to cause mayhem. But should we continue blaming them for our omissions.

Looking at the farms in Elburgon, the main challenge affecting maize farmers due the rains was mould. This is a fungal infection that causes huge losses and harms human and animal health since they produce aflatoxins.

The toxins remain in the stored products and cannot be easily destroyed by burning or evening processing.

Besides on the farm, plenty of grain is usually lost after harvesting due to poor handling and bad storage practices that expose the grains to insect pests and diseases.

Pests such as weevils can infest the maize while still on the farm making holes on the seeds while the rodents make the seeds to break and spill on the ground.

Therefore, for the best strategy, management of post-harvest losses in maize should start right before one plants the crop.

SIMPLEST AND AFFORDABLE

This begins by selecting varieties that are less susceptible to the attack. These varieties are available for most of the regions of the country enabling farmers to curb losses, whether there is rain or shine.

Timely harvesting also reduces contamination on the farm. While harvesting during the dry season makes most of the grains to be stored well, sometimes prolonged rain season may force a farmer to harvest during the rains.

If this happens, store the maize in a well-ventilated leak-proof structure and keep on turning the produce frequently to ensure proper air circulation. This will prevent the grains from rotting or developing moulds.

After harvesting, ensure the maize is well-sorted and graded to remove all the infected seeds. Threshing should be done and all the residues removed as they also act as a source of contamination.

Sun-drying is the simplest and affordable method of drying the grains. However, solar panels can also be used to effectively dry the maize.

Even without a moisture meter, you can do a simple test to determine if the maize is well-dried by putting a handful of seeds and salt in a bottle and thoroughly shake to mix it. If the salt does not stick on the bottle, this shows that the maize seeds are well-dried.

Monitoring of the moisture content in and around the granary is also essential as this ensures the seeds remain dry. Therefore, one should ensure that the granary is well-ventilated to allow air circulation.

To control weevils, the maize seeds can be stored in hermetic bags that are made up of three layers or in metal silos.

This helps the farmer to keep the grain without using any preservatives. Pests inside the bags or silos suffocate since they are airtight.