You are currently viewing Low planting densities limiting productivity factor (part 3)

Low planting densities limiting productivity factor (part 3)

OFTEN some farmers have bragged that they have increased their area under production and when you ask them how much seed they have planted, one will be amazed that the seed rate used is far too low.
Sad enough, such farmers would be expecting to make money out of their crop. For instance, one farmer had cultivated one hectare of soya beans the previous season, and the following season, he phoned me to tell me that he had planted three hectares that season and was expecting to rake in money at harvest.
When I paid him a courtesy call to look at his crop, I was rather surprised to see soybean plants standing like fruit trees in an orchard. When I inquired how much seed he had planted, the answer was a disappointing 75 kilogrammes or three bags of 25 kilogrammes soya bean seed.
Indeed, that farmer was right that he had cultivated three hectares because the size of the planted area was three hectares but what was planted in there did not even make a hectare.
This is generally one big fallacy we have as farmers. We do not seem to plant the right seed rate in a hectare. No matter how much fertiliser we use or how clean we keep the fields, with such planting rates we will never achieve the economic yields that we desire.
This is true for maize as well, farmers opens up larger chunks of land with a view to being called a big farmer only to plant at 50 percent of the normal rate.
For instance, in a one hectare soybean field, the minimum one can plant is 80 kilogrammes and this can go up to 120 kilogrammes of seed depending on the physiological characteristics of the variety, that is whether it is an upright standing variety or bushy.
These are things we need to know at the time of buying seed. The highest yielding soybean varieties in Zambia are around five to six metric tonnes per hectare. Good farmers like the ones I know on the Copperbelt and Mkushi get as high as 4.5 metric tonnes per hectare as the average yield.
While working on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project in Eastern Province, there was one smallholder farmer who managed to get three metric tonnes of soya beans per hectare in Lundazi through conservation agriculture.
I was so elated by these result because the average national yields of soya beans for small-scale farmers in Zambia are around 900 kilogrammes metric tonnes per hectare and for one to get three tonnes, was a 230 percent increase. This shows that we can achieve the best yields like commercial farmers if we put our fields in order.
Similarly, this is the case with maize as well. Nearly each and every small-scale farmer grows maize in this country and most often one will talk of having planted 10 kilogrammes of seed in a hectare.
Such farmers should never expect to get miracles by thinking they may get six tonnes and above even if they increased the fertiliser rates. The minimum quantity of seed that can be planted in a hectare is 20 kilogrammes, which can go up to 25 kilogrammes.
This will also depend on the grain size and the type of variety as well but it should never fall below 20 kilogrammes. Deliberately, I have decided to share this piece of advice because good farmers are smelling an opportunity next year.
Signs are showing that the rain patterns in the region will not be favourable for rain-fed crops. We have already been told how dry it has been in South Africa and that country will likely import more maize for stock feed as well as for human consumption. We could be the most likely supplier if we do the right thing and have that bumper harvest you always claim we get.
Remember that productivity is a function of many factors and if you miss just one, then forget about getting the best yields that you anticipate.
To sum it up, in these series of articles we have discussed using certified seed, planting at the right depth and time, timely and right application of fertilisers, weed and disease management, using good agricultural practices especially now that we are most likely to have inadequate water in most areas, planting the right quantity of seed per hectare and of course the last one is to manage our post-harvest loses such as protecting our grains from pest infestation.
Once all this is done, we can talk about better economic yields. If only the national average yields for maize can be above five tonnes for maize and two tonnes for soya beans, with the sheer numbers of farmers involved in agriculture in Zambia, that is the only time I will smile and say we have a bumper harvest; a harvest of above 9.6 million tonnes for maize.
The author is an agri-business practitioner.