WHY PREPARATION AND PLANNING FOR THE CROPPING SEASON IS IMPORTANT.

Mubanga, S.C

October is a month of preparation for farmers. A wise farmer makes sure all necessary inputs and a secured market are in place, for what he/ she will be growing in a particular season. Additionally, land should be secured and either prepped or almost there. Lack of poor planning before the rain season commences is among the many other factors that lead to poor crop yield or reduced income. Indeed, one can argue as to whether October is still the right time to plan for the next season or simply when one harvests. In any case, by October, you expect most seed companies to have advanced in ensuring the seeds are ready for the commencement of the season.

When a farmer plans well in advance, in terms of what inputs to use and with a market in mind or already secured, he or she takes care of certain flows that come with delays. For instance, late planting is as a result of poor planning for the season and this ultimately results in reduced yields. This means if a farmer doesn’t prepare the field on time, then he or she will not plant on time and the crop may not receive the required climatic conditions in order to express itself fully. Conversely, the sooner a farmer realises that planning is an integral part of farming, the better he/ she becomes at this venture.

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EFFECT OF BURNING ON CROP FIELDS

Mubanga, S.C

It is a common practice in Zambia and many other countries in Africa and to burn forests or harvested crop fields. This activity is done with a view of clearing crop fields in readiness for land preparation. In Zambia it is done between August and November. The burning practice, per se, has no systematic way and as such; it is usually not known who starts the fire. Such fires unfortunately affect even those that may not necessarily want to burn their fields.

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The question is, is it beneficial or not? Some studies have indicated the following;

Burning may have an negative effect but to some extent also has benefits;

Some scientists have argued that low intensity fires can enhance nutrient availability via chemically converting nutrients bound in dead plant tissues and the soil surface to more available forms or indirectly increasing mineralization rates through its impacts on soil microorganisms.

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This to some extent relates more or less to the chitemene system where shifting cultivation is practised and growing of crops is done in small ash gardens made by burning a pile of wood cleared from a larger area. Scientists have shown that burning under chitemene increases soil Nitrogen content by 40-50%, with a further increase of 15% after 262 mm of rainfall. In contrast soil in unburnt fields lose up to 30% Nitrogen. The Burning under chitemene which is practised in Muchinga and Northern Provinces also shows increase in other nutrients such as Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, and Sodium in the top soil immediately after burning.

It is interesting that other scientists have shown the opposite to the chitemene system by indicating that due to volatilization and oxidation in a low intensity gash fire there is actually a reduction in fuel nutrient pools in undergrowth and forest floor: 54-75% of N, 37–50% of P, 43–66% of K, 31–34% of Ca, 25–49% of Mg, 25–43% Mn, and 35–54% of B.

 

Clearly, fire impacts nutrients in the soil differently; the concentration of magnesium, potassium, and calcium ions can either increase or be unaffected whereas sulphur and nitrogen habitually decreases. Low intensity fires increase productivity while high intensity fires decrease site productivity. To some extent, it seems that the intensity of fire determines the volatilisation, for instance, Calcium will vaporize when heated at 1,240 °C, whereas Nitrogen can only begin to volatilize out of organic matter at only 200°C.

High intensity of fire has an effect of changing the physical characteristics of the soil making it more vulnerable to nutrient loss by means of erosion. Low severity fires lead to soil organic matter loss and eventually aggregate degradation for weeks to months after a fire. Fire can cause reduction of fuel and organic soil nutrient pool sizes can also cause an increase in soil nutrient turnover rates, and redistribution of nutrients through the soil profile. It is also important to note that with the current situation of climate change, more extreme environmental conditions may be favoured that may shift fire regimes to more severe fires with large impact on soil microorganisms. Additionally, a bare soil is more vulnerable to erosion and results in increased soil temperatures which may affect microbial activities and other chemical reactions.

In conclusion, burning is not sustainable and causes more harm than good to a farmers’ field, the environment and human health. It is therefore, important that farmers around this time make fire guards to prevent their fields from being burnt. A fire guard can be built by establishing a wide control line around your crop fields to a bare ground of at least 10 meters wide or carefully burn around the 10 meters wide barrier around the main fields. However, when burning, care should be taken not to burn when there is too much wind or when it is too hot to avoid the fire extending into the crop fields.

IMPORTANCE OF LEAVING AND LAYING CROP RESIDUES OF PREVIOUS CROPS

Mubanga, S.C

Soil nutrition is very important in crop production if a farmer is to realise increased yields. Many times farmers bundle up their maize for easy harvesting and later forget to spread them around but rather burn them in readiness for the next season. This kind of practice poses a threat to the soil biodiversity; which contributes largely to the soil nutrition. If you have a good cover of your previous crop residues, you are improving your soil nutrition. The residues will become food to the termites which will help in the decomposition and this will result in a richer soil that can support plant growth more sustainably.

A good crop cover will also act as a shelter to the soil fauna. These covers also facilitate for an increased carbon to Nitrogen (C: N) ratio of organic residues, the C: N ratio is important because it influences the rate at which a residue is decomposed and the amount of Nitrogen recycled from the residues. It is important in compositing because the microorganisms require a good balance of C: N ratio from 25 to 35 in order to remain active. High C; N ratio can lead to prolonged compositing and low C: N ratio increases Nitrogen loss (Christos et al., 2017).

Crops take up nutrients and during their growth they tend to partition these nutrients to various parts of the plant. Therefore, when plant residues are removed or burnt, all the partitioned nutrients are lost. However, when these residues are retained in the fields, as the plants decompose, they add these nutrients and hence nourishing the soils. Different crops take up nutrients differently, some go deeper while others go shallower, and some take out more from the soils while others add and takeout less. Cereals like maize tend to take out more and quite deeper than legumes.

I wish to therefore, urge all farmers to think twice about burning and not leaving well spread out plant residues in the fields just after harvesting. A wise farmer is one who thinks sustainably; whose farming is a lifelong practise that not only sustains him/her now but many more generations ahead.

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MAIZE HARVESTING

The best moment for a farmer in his or her quest for crop production is harvesting time. Him/ her seeing the produce of what a single seed was initially having multiplied to 100s of grains. No person would be annoyed or disappointed with what was initially single and now over one hundred. But wait a minute, are you sure this is it; I have multiplied and here I am I will soon have a fat account, and well that’s it. I am sorry to disappoint you that that’s not it. Most farmers will be so excited about their harvest that they would easily forget about how much they had invested in their crop production, losses that they may incur during and after harvesting.

Farmers need to remember the following as they are harvesting their maize crop.

  1. Farming is a business – your aim is to maximize your profits and therefore, remember to cost every activity and record in order that you may determine whether your business is profitable or not

  2. Losses are not just caused by late planting, poor rains, poor soils, pest damage during crop life, weeds to mention but a few, but are also caused by human pests and miss handling of the crop during harvesting, such as poor supervision of the people harvesting, threshing, and winnowing. Losses can also be caused by high moisture content in the grains resulting in rot and thereby downgrading the quality of your product. To check for whether the moisture content is okay for storage or not, put the grains in a dry cola bottle and add some salt then shake thoroughly for 2 to 3 minutes and if the salt sticks to the walls of the bottle, then the moisture is still high. In that case, you may need to further dry your crop.

  3. Be aware of borers and weevils that cause damage to the grains. Any dust such as atelic gold dust at a rate of 50g/ 100kg of grain (please remember to read the label)

  4. Prevailing prices, it is a gamble sometimes to rush to sale your produce before the government price. It may or may not work to your advantage. When you decide to store, remember to include the cost of storage in your cost of production.

  5. Sustainability, if you are growing an open pollinated variety e.g., Oba Tampa or local varieties, remember to leave some for the next season and for your home consumption. A bag of maize meal may be more expensive than a bag of 50kg that you could have left for your mealy meal. So do not always sale everything. Bear in mind that if you grow a hybrid, it can never grow the next season, so concentrate on leaving some for your mealy meal rather than for your production. Also note that recycled seed doesn’t yield as much as its parent.

     Be a wise farmer and always remember that farming is a business and not a hobby!!!!

 

 

Best wishes as you harvest and admire your hard work.

 

 “Indeed, working hard pays off!!!!”

Mubanga, S.C

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Exhibitor Content & Expert videos

Picture 1 Soybean in a Conventional Tillage (left) and No-Till plot (right).jpg

Securing the future of farming in Zambia by
implementing climate adapted farming methods.
Mechanised conservation agriculture on-farm
experiment yields promising results.

Join us at AgriTech Expo Zambia, at the GART premises near
Chisamba to discuss learnings of field trials and see first-hand the most recent
developments in the farming sector.


Zambia has seen impacts of climate change across the entire country in recent years. The rain comes
late in the season and end early; often resulting in heavy runoff and floods. The climate adapted
farming methods project an initiative of the Zambian-German Agricultural Knowledge and Training
Centre (AKTC) which started in 2019, is aimed at minimizing climate related impacts and secure
income among small-scale and emergent farmers through the practice of mechanized conservation
agriculture.


Achieving good plant stands is a key factor for high yields; plant populations in no-till plots developed
better than in conventional tillage plots (Picture 1). Likely, a result of higher soil moisture contents
and reduced evaporation – no-till reducing rainwater runoff and improving the water infiltration.

Picture 1: Soybean in a Conventional Tillage (left) and No-Till plot (right) 52 days after sowing.
Less time and fuel was required for planting in no-till plots reducing production cost while weed
control and insect control recorded insignificant time, labour and fuel differences.
AgriTech Expo Zambia – the most important agricultural trade fair in Zambia presented by ZNFU and
organized by DLG Agriculture a local subsidiary of the German Agricultural Society (DLG), at GART will
be an ideal platform to exchange more information with the AKTC project leaders and mechanised
conservation agriculture project partners like Bayer, Seed Co, Omnia fertilizers, Precision Farming.
The complete list of exhibitors at AgriTech Expo Zambia can be found at - www.agritech-expo.com
AgriTech Expo Zambia, at the GART outdoor exhibition field,
near Chisamba – Zambia.

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