Columnists Features

‘Insure’ against yield losses in soybeans


SOYBEANS and maize farmers were smiling from the field to the bank this year. As a matter of fact, the producers of these crops have been having a relatively good price for their commodities in the past three seasons. I can foresee very good prices again in the 2016/17 marketing season for the mentioned crops.
For now, I will hold back my reasons but one of them is that we might have a possibility of more than normal rains, which normally leads to floods in low-lying areas. This means that the commodity will be on high demand in Southern and Western provinces, parts of Malawi and Mozambique. So, as a soybean farmer, what you need to do is to ‘insure’ against loss in yield?
We all know that the prices of fertilisers and other inputs are still high because the kwacha hasn’t appreciated as much as we would have loved to see it. At K10 against the dollar, for one to make meaningful profits, one needs to think on ‘top of the box’.
Lucky enough, for the farmer growing soybeans, we shall think for you. The most expensive inputs in soybean production are seed, fertilisers and herbicides. You need at least 80kg of seed per hectare; any seed rate less than this means you are planting less than a hectare. I have seen smallholder farmers planting 25kg of seed in a hectare and expect to get over three tons per hectare.
No matter the magic used, you will never get above three tons; so the first ‘magical’ activity is to ensure that we plant the right seed rate. Secondly, soybean growers are very lucky in that the crop understands our incapacities. It knows that Zambian farmers have a challenge to access fertilisers. What it does is that it uses its own energy and resources to convert atmospheric nitrogen in plant usable nitrates, which are so important for protein formulation; the reason the crop is nicknamed the ‘gold that grows’.
However, you and I who did basic economics – not to the level of the gurus at Bank of Zambia – agree that in the world, there is nothing like free things. Even at hotels, we are duped that we enjoy free breakfast when we pay for it through the accommodation costs. The soybean also is not exceptional; it will not fix the nitrogen for free so that you can smile all the way to the bank with ‘fat’ cheques.
We need to inoculate the seed with the rhizobium, which are bacteria that form nodules on the plant roots in which the nitrogen is fixed to nitrates. The question you must be asking now is, where can I get this rhizobium? What a good question by a good farmer!
Today on the market, there are a lot of people and companies claiming that they have very good inoculants. Indeed, it could be good but in what state? It could have millions of the bacteria but dead. As your partner in agribusiness development, I have found a very good inoculant which is user-friendly for the smallholder farmer. I have tried it on my shamba and I was very happy with the results.
This inoculant is solid, unlike the liquid which is difficult to store, and in different pack sizes that suit your pocket. This inoculant is called HiStick and it is found in 400g sachets, which can treat 100kg of soybean seed as well as 100g sachets, which treat 25kg of soybean or groundnut seed. The Bembas say, ‘Uukwebele imfwa yakwa noko…’
What good seed inoculation does is that it cuts your fertiliser requirements for your crop to as much as half and a third sometimes. Suppose you were to use 200kg of basal fertilisers. With good inoculation, you can use between 50kg to 100kg of basal fertilisers, and you might not use top dressing but just supplement with foliar fertilisers, which has other elements like iron, boron and others.
If this is not the good news that you have been waiting for since August 11 this year, then I don’t know what you are looking for. I should have charged you for this information but I have decided to give it at no cost, though next time you will pay through the nose.
Seed inoculation is one reason why our colleagues in the commercial farming segment are getting four-and-a-half tons while those of us in the smallholder segment are stuck at 900kg per hectare using the same seed, land and herbicides.
At K4 per kg, with someone who used the inputs including an inoculant well, he will be able to make K14,400 more than us. The cost of a good, viable and tested inoculant should be in the range of K300 to K350 per kilo and this can treat seed worth 2.5ha.
Additionally, you will cut about three bags of fertiliser, each costing K380; meaning you reduce your input cost by K1,140. Think twice, think inoculation this season!
This author is an agribusiness practitioner.

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