FarmBiz: By Kudakwashe Gwabanayi
WELCOME to the first instalment of our new column FarmBiz, which seeks to research and share information on farming.
The roots of the farming practice can be traced back to Biblical times when God created man “in the garden of Eden”. In the same Bible, we are told of different gifts that people have.
This is aptly expressed in farming where some are good at cropping, while others are good with animal husbandry. There are also those who have a gift of marketising and selling farm produce. Then again there are those who have made millions by selling fertilisers, chemicals, seed and many other accessories and equipment to farmers.
We also have those that are focused on processing, whatever would be coming from the field. We must, however, never forget the key person in the farming who happens to be the worker. It is my hope that this column will be a meeting platform for everyone who has a stake in farming.
Before venturing into farming it is very important for one to realise their strengths and weaknesses so that they can strategically place themselves where potential is maximised.
Above everything, farming is propelled by passion; profit-making is secondary.
Virtues of a farmer
Patience: Farming is not a get-rich quick scheme, therefore for one to be a successful farmer you need to be very patient. Take for example; if one embarks on a tomato planting project, they will have to wait for over seven months to get a return on their investment. The first two months will be spent on land preparation and nursery.
After transplanting the crop, tomatoes take averagely 90 days to maturity. But then again, just because the crop has matured does not mean you have made money. In fact this is where the real farming starts as you transport and sell your produce.
This is where most new farmers fail because they plant crops that they do not have a market for which eventually rots at the farm. In some unfortunate incidences, because the farmer would have gone for months spending their money without any return, one gets desperate and unscrupulous merchants and middlemen usually take advantage of them and sell the produce but never pay the farmer. This is worse in animal rearing where it takes at least three years to get the return on your investment.
In farming, a stitch in time surely saves nine. As a farmer, it is very important to be checking on your crops or animals regularly for diseases and pests because once a problem is detected early, it can be stopped from spreading.
If you look at animal husbandry for example, if one of your cattle or goats has foot and mouth, you need to quarantine it and treat it, lest the disease spreads to other animals and becomes difficult to treat. It is through morning and evening thorough scouting that you notice anomalies and treat them fast.
The same applies to crops, fungi like powdery mildew, can cost the farmer a whole crop of peas if not detected early. Even pests like fruit fly, tuta and thrips need an early solution otherwise the situation can easily get out of control.
Timing is everything in farming; knowing when to plant, knowing when to weed, knowing when to spray and above all knowing when to harvest. There are market trends that one needs to observe before planting anything.
For example, tomato prices sour to US$1,50/kg in November but fall to US$0,30 around May and June. For one to maximise on their effort they need to calculate that if they do their nursery in June and July, they will transplant their crop in August and start harvesting late October in time for the shortages that spurn the price.
It is, therefore, important to plan when to plant. This is however more imperative to farmers who do rain fed crops.
They need to know when to plant so that when the rains come, the crop will be on the ground. Now if the rains come late, the seed will rot.
If you wait for the rains to start planting you may not get the chance to do so as it may rain on consecutive days. In animal husbandry, one needs to know when to mate their pigs or cattle because it is difficult for animals to give birth during summer. Because there is little or no grazing land, one would then need to supplement both the mother and the offspring.
There is so much to learn in farming everyday. With each passing day, new methods of doing things are suggested. Scientific innovations have made it easier for farmers, giving them better yields in small spaces while mechanisation of farms has reduced labour costs over years.
However, is it not surprising that there are farmers who are using backdated methods simply because of being ignorant? One needs to have an inquisitive mind and must be open to new ideas.
Since we are not operating in a vacuum, it is important as a farmer to visit others so that you can see how they are making it.
- Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or firstname.lastname@example.org