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A million worth small scale maize farm

Updated on July 31, 2014

Maize Offers Job Opportunities

Self employed Freddy roasting quality maize
Self employed Freddy roasting quality maize | Source

Introduction

Proper farm management practices are a prerequisite to a bumper harvest; From land preparation, planting, crop management, harvesting and storage. All these processes are better said than done.They are involving practices that do not only need a lot of labor investment but also technical expertise. Every farmer want to get it all right but most just don't know how. Most small scale farmers rely on what they have previously seen being done and few search for knowledge of what they DON'T know. But now it is about time that we open our eyes to limitless ends. This is a time to see the sky through the window-not just trees.

Farming is not rocket science. It is a simple practice that just require a little planing, time and information. Also patience and determination are important virtues that each farmer needs to have. So with all the available patience lets go through the necessary information and then with all determination apply the concepts discussed.

Land preparation

The old adage has it that success favors a prepared mind. Similarly superbly prepared land will undoubtedly produce great harvests. So you won't ignore this step if you are a farmer with a target.

Several options are available when it comes to maize land preparation. One may plough the land manually or mechanically using a hoe or a moldboard. However, it is most important to ensure that the land is free of weeds and the soil deep enough to to allow root penetration during germination.

Alternatively one can just decide to use weed killer chemicals. This is done by spraying the land and planting immediately. The method has an advantage of moisture being conserved hence early germination of crops. Even so, this practice isn't suitable for fallow and completely compact soils. Fallow lands will always show symptoms of phosphorous deficiency even when the soil is not deficient of phosphorous.

Dividing of plots for easy management by researchers at KARI Njoro
Dividing of plots for easy management by researchers at KARI Njoro | Source
A soil analyst working in KARI Njoro Soil Chemistry Lab
A soil analyst working in KARI Njoro Soil Chemistry Lab | Source

Soil Testing

When you buy a gizmo you will always try it out to ensure it is in a good conditions. This takes only a few minutes. Likewise farms needs to be tested before any planting. However unlike gizmos, you need to collect samples to the labs for analysis. But ensure right sampling procedures are followed.

Then get your soil to any available research institution. Ask them to test for Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Carbon and pH. These are the main but not the only factors that play role in maize productivity. If need be ask for the assaying of other macro and micro-nutrients i.e. Na, Mg, Ca, Zn, Se, Mo etc.

Unfortunately data alone does not mean much, information from data is what counts. So ask an interpretation of the results of the test. Then go ahead and request for recommendations. For example ask the research officer what you need to do if phosphorous content is below needed amount.

Maize weeded using chemicals that selectively kill the grass
Maize weeded using chemicals that selectively kill the grass | Source
knee high maize intercroped with beans and redy for first top dressing with CAN
knee high maize intercroped with beans and redy for first top dressing with CAN | Source
Purple colour an indication of phosphorous deficiency in maize
Purple colour an indication of phosphorous deficiency in maize | Source
Insect pest infested maize
Insect pest infested maize | Source

Crop management

Weed control

Immediately after planting , it would serve one a better reward to spray the farm with a general weed killer which should be herbicidal in nature. This should be done in 1-4 days after planting. It would ensure that the plants grow weed -free without any unnecessary competition.

consequtive weeding should be done atleast untill the maize flowers. It can be attained through manual methods such as weeding and application pre- and post emergent weed killers.

Top dressing

Once all other crop husbandry practices are properly done, fertilizers apllication could significantly increase the yield. Fertilizer recommendations are made after analysing the soil. The use of fertilizers in maize production is economic only where improved varieties are used.

Nitrogen fertilizers such as CAN and UREA are the ones used for top dressing. The practice should be done when the maize is knee high (45-60 cm high). Aditionally just before flowering top dressing need to be done once again. This will ensure such robust and healthy population of maize.

As we all know the leaves are like the food factory ot the plant. However when the nitrogen content in the soil is limited the plant wiil selectively kill lower leaves to cut on the mantaince cost. Therefore topdressing just before flowering will ensuure that the lower leaves ot the plants are not sacrificed. This will translate into a larger food factory for the crops hence quality maize with such a great quantity.

Broad fertilizer recommendations for maize growing areas in Kenya

Apply a suitable insecticide dust and put it done the funnel immediately after singling. Dust again later if stalkborer damage is seen.

Diseases and Insect pest control
Root and stalk rots and foliar diseases such as leaf blight and sheath blight are common in humid days in maize.

Planting

For a seed to germinate it has to first go into the soil and die. Afterwards the shoot will sprout and your plants start flourishing. Planting however should be done on the same day if uniformity is one of the factors of interest. In maize, one can do dry planting or can wait till it rains before planting.

Some important factors to consider while planting are:

1. Time of planting

It is essential to plant early, at the beginning of the rains. Yields are greatly reduced by late planting.

2. Choice of seeds to plant

It is important to choose the correct hybrid to suit the altitude and rainfall conditions of the region of interest. One is required to liaise with the extension officers within the region for more information. When choosing the seeds to plant, the following factors should be put into consideration.

  • hybrid
  • Altitude
  • Length of maturity
  • Rainy season
  • Potential yield

3. Plant spacing and population

One can optimise the yield by attaining a correct maize poulation on the farm. However, population if directly affected by spacing. Once the spacing is correct and has been correctly adhered to, be sure have an acceptable plant population on tha farm. These are some of the spacings one can work with while planting ,

  • 90 CM X 30 CM : This spacing is suitable for low levels of crop mantaince. However the plant population per hectare will be low as well. In a hectare, one will have about 37000 pants
  • 75 CM X 25 CM : This spacing could produce a great harvest to the farmer if the level of mantaince is high enough. Alot of fertiliser will need to be applied in order to sustain the nutritient requirement of the plant. With this spacing about 75,000 plants could be attained. Provided the yield is costant this spacing could offer a farmer twice as much as the 90 by 30.
  • One can also try out the 75 CM X 50 CM which will ensure a 53,000 population

One should always plant atleast some extra seed to account for losses due to squirrels, pests, erratic rainfall and planting mishaps. Two seeds seeds per hole or an alternating one and two seeds per hole could do. Afterwards thinning can be done when the maize is 6-9 inches tall, leaving only the healthy plants.

4. The actual planting

One should first apply fertiliser in the hole or furrow, mix it well with the soil and then plant the seeds and cover them with loose soil. Contact of the seeds with fertiliser should be avoided as it would cause scorching hence resulting in poor germination. Also while covering big clumps of soil shoud never cover the seeds because this would result in a belated germination or no germination at all.

Phosphorous fertilisers are the ones used while planting. These fertilisers aids in root formation.

Harvesting

Among small scale farmers maize harvesting is manual. It involves remival of the the ear before removing the seeds from the cobs. One should time the harvesting and ensure that the rains do not damage the maize when they are ready for harvest. However aquiring some machines could be of great help. mechanical harvesting and shelling processes often results in external damage, such as the cracking of the pericarp and parts around the germ, facilitating insects and fungi attacks. Drying should not be done too rapidly at high temperatures as this could cause cracks.

Harvested maize usually contain allot of moisture and hence should vbe dried to reduce the moisture content to about 12% at 30oC.Low moisture content and low storage temperatures reduce the opportunity for deterioration and microbial growth.Aeration therefore becomes an important operation in maize storage as a means of keeping down the relative humidity of interstitial gases.


Drying Methods

  • Layer drying.Harvested maize is put in one layer and then air forced through the perforated floor to evaporate the moisture. Only one batch of maize is dried at a time.
  • Portable batch dryers. Operates using air heated at about 60-80oC. The are very suitable for small scale farmers due to portability.
  • Continuous flow dryers. Mostly used by large scale farmers. Maize coniously flows over heated sections where it looses moisture and dries.

Storage

Even when dry, maize seeds still have life but in a latent form. Therefore storage is a very important factor. Why harvest big and loose a great deal just because of a minor problem that could easily be solved!

During storage, beware of insects, rodents and even birds. these are biotic factors that can easily be controlled using insecticides and rodenticides. Among the insects weevils are the commonest challenge.

Second are non-biotic factors, which include relative humidity, temperature and time. Check with reponsible officers within your region to learn more on Storage.



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