Agronomist's notebook: Preparing for this year’s crop seasons

Saturday January 5 2019

A sample tomato crop cultivation budget.

A sample tomato crop cultivation budget. For crop farming, the best way to begin is by preparing a budget indicating the costs; from land preparation, seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, labour, marketing cost, packaging and transporting materials in case required and evaluate the expected yields and profits before venturing into the enterprise. TABLE | COURTESY 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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The good thing with the beginning of a New Year is that one sees things in a fresh perspective, and there are new opportunities and targets as one plans.

For crop farmers, the best way to begin is by preparing a budget indicating the costs; from land preparation, seeds, fertilisers, chemicals, labour, marketing cost, packaging and transporting materials in case required and evaluate the expected yields and profits before venturing into the enterprise.

In most cases, farmers tend to utilise the land over the years until the soil is exhausted. Therefore, it’s vital to conduct a soil test before planting.

The test will establish the soil suitability for growing certain crops and guide you on how to apply fertilisers. Again, do a market survey to familiarise yourself with seasons, that is, when to produce with minimum cost and get higher prices.

For example, it's economical to produce tomatoes during the dry seasons when there is little infestation of pests and diseases thus reducing the cost of chemicals compared to the wet seasons.

It’s also critical to follow the basics of management by keeping good records and before using modern technologies, evaluate them and practice them carefully.

During selection of planting materials, one should review records of the last seasons. For example, were there cases of disease persistence issues in the crop? Did some of the onions bolt?

Acquire the best quality materials by considering varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases, especially the soil-borne.

Diseases arise due to the right combination of pathogens, host and environmental conditions commonly referred to as the “Diseases Triangle”.

Proper identification of diseases not only helps with control for the current crop but also for the coming seasons.

CHECK THE PRODUCT'S LABEL

Farmers should also check out on the product's label indicating the varieties’ resistance to different diseases. The growth habit of the crop variety is also a factor to be considered, for example, there are tomato varieties that are determinate and grow to a height of not more than a metre, sets fruits and starts ripening while the indeterminate can grow to a height of about 10 metres.

This requires intensive care, and support and harvesting can take place for a longer time.

Determinate varieties are also suitable for the cold climate where one needs to harvest the crops within a couple of weeks.

It’s wise to have crops with a shorter growing season since one can sell produce before the market floods. Plants that need significant light and warm temperatures for growth and optimal flavour, such as melons may require special attention.

That means when the growing season is short, choosing melon varieties can make a difference in the crop success.

If the field is prone to wind damage, one should select crops that are tolerant to wind or have a border crop. Common cultivars are not always the best choice, and one should, therefore, inquire for the varieties that are adaptable to their environment. Maize farmers need to get the right varieties according to their ecological zones.

For example, there are different maize varieties for high, medium and low-medium altitude areas.

The farmers should, therefore, inquire about the ecological conditions before buying the seeds.

To solve the issues of pests and diseases, regular scouting and monitoring is important to prevent heavy infestation.

Farmers should also be conscious to plant crop varieties that are meeting their market demand. Above all, stay positive in times of challenges since farming, as any other business venture, needs dedication, forecast and determination.