A visit to various fresh produce markets across the country makes one appreciate the need for farmers to understand the three Ps formula.
The Ps stand for predicting, planning and planting timely, a formula that helps maximise returns by forecasting the prevailing market and weather trends, and scheduling what to grow and grow it.
Last month for instance, a head of cabbage was selling for as high as Sh150, and buyers were forking out as much as Sh160 for a kilo of tomatoes.
Consumers had to dig deeper into their pockets as savvy farmers reaped big. With the onset of the long rains this month, vegetable prices have started to decline.
Timely planting, therefore, plays a crucial role in crop production. When the supply is low, demand is high, and therefore, prices shoot up.
Since farming is profoundly affected by the ecological conditions in a given area, a farmer should work out an enabling crop production model throughout the year.
To begin with, all-year-round crop production is possible where there is ready access to water and farming under a controlled environment such inside a greenhouse or under a shade net.
Irrigation certainly cushions a farmer from unpredictable weather, hence the need to plan production.
Through timely planting, the plant benefits from the nitrogen flush and competition from weeds is contained. Secondly, sometimes infestation of pests and diseases is low, reducing the cost of production.
Thirdly, farm labour is also readily available before every farmer starts working on their farms.
Lastly, the crop matures when the market prices are high.
For instance, a tomato farmer, who times his crop for harvest during the festive season will always earn higher because the fruit at this time fetches more.
Since tomatoes take three months to mature, in case one wants to sell in December, transplanting should be done in August or September during the short rain seasons.
A quarter an acre of tomatoes yields 6kg per m2, which gives a total yield of about 4.5 tonnes. If one sells a kilo at Sh60, a farmer can rake in Sh270,000 unlike Sh140,000 when the price is at Sh40 or less, when demand is low and supply high.
Field tomatoes generally don’t do well during the rainy season or when it is too cold. Normally, the incidence of disease and pests is high, leading to increased cost of production.
Most farmers, therefore, avoid planting tomatoes during the rainy season. However, a farmer who plants tomatoes and applies effective management practices will be guaranteed good prices.
The crop’s shelf life
For onion farmers, planning should factor time for curing to increase the crop’s shelf-life.
A farmer planting maize under irrigation will always benefit by selling the green produce in times of scarcity. For instance, currently, green maize in Kajiado County is selling at Sh15-Sh20 per piece. The same produce would fetch Sh5 from September due to increased supply.
To fetch high market prices for coriander, plant from December to March before the long rains season starts.
A kilo of coriander, a few months ago, was going for 80kg at farm gate price. Currently, it is trading at Sh20 per kilo since the rains started.