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Agronomist notebook: Nine-point recipe for great crops

Saturday August 31 2019

Farmers harvest tomatoes they grow under irrigation in Kilimambogo.

Farmers harvest tomatoes they grow under irrigation in Kilimambogo. Every successful farmer has a sad story to tell about their ventures. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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Every successful farmer has a sad story to tell about their ventures. As any other business, one has to go through several rough patches to make it in farming, a reality that many would-be farmers don’t appreciate.

You see, farming has been sold to many young people as a very lucrative venture that one invests their money in and waits to reap big. Well, experience shows otherwise.

I recently met a farmer who had incurred losses amounting to hundreds of shillings in his tomato production.

Martha had gone into farming to make some quick money after a friend had intimated to her that there are juicy returns in the crop.

Forgetting to do market research and to understand what it takes to manage the crop, she plunged into farming only to reap losses.

As an agronomist, whenever one seeks my professional advice before they get into farming, I usually tell them the following:

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First, always gather adequate information about how to grow the crop and market. Check when is the best season to produce in terms of climatic conditions and when the product is on demand in the target market.

For example, tomatoes in Kajiado are currently retailing at Sh20-Sh30 per kilo while in Nakuru the produce is going for Sh100.

Second, identify the varieties that suit your environmental conditions in terms of soil type, resistance to pests and diseases, water availability and consumer demand.

To identify the suitable variety, conduct as many trials as you can to understand which method of production and seeds best suit your environmental conditions.

Third, for a farmer to be successful, consider investing in skilled labour. Have a farm operator or manager who can quickly identify pests and diseases and control them appropriately.

IMPROMPTU VISIT

Also, the expert should be able to manage the soil and predict the crop to grow depending on the weather conditions.

Fourth, it is essential for the farmer to have the necessary crop production skills. Therefore, attend agricultural shows, short-course training, and farmer field days as much as possible.

Fifth, just like in any other business, consider the initial starting capital. You require resources to buy tools, inputs and develop the farm in case of setting up the irrigation system or purchasing machinery, among others.

Therefore, have a business plan that will help you make projection of the expected returns and expenses. In case you realise the cost of investing is higher than the profit, consider a different investment or try to minimise the costs.

Sixth, some people farm over the phone, hence the term telephone farmers. They rely on information provided to them by their workers.

This does not always work, thus despite having a reliable farm manager, make it a habit to visit your farm regularly — at least once per week.

It does not harm to make an impromptu visit, but be hands-on and understand what happens when you are absentia.

Seventh, have a passion for farming since this will motivate you to learn more.

Apart from the success stories of the other farmers, it’s vital to understand the challenges they faced and remedies they employed to succeed.

Eighth, it is important to keep records for evaluation purposes as they will help you know the direction the farm is going.

Lastly, understand policies, laws and regulations governing the production of that particular crop. You can get information from the local extension officer.

This is crucial especially if one is producing food for the export market since one needs to comply with many standards.