Grain SA’s farmer development team is continuously assessing the risks being faced by developing and potential commercial farmers. Our programme has a number of tools which can be employed to mitigate the risks and lead new farmers onto a more viable and sustainable path.
Conducting crop inspections is one of the tasks of the field officers. They also educate farmers about the importance of soil health and early weed control in summer crops. Weeds lower crop yields by competing for soil moisture, nutrients, space and sunlight. Good weed control management in summer crops is therefore essential for the production of high-yielding and profitable crops. For high cost and high value irrigated crops, competition for light and nutrients is even more important.
Yield losses caused by weeds can vary enormously – from almost negligible yield loss to the complete loss of a crop. Farmers must aim to reduce weed numbers and then keep them controlled with an ongoing control programme throughout the season. Management practices that combine all of the available methods are the key to successful weed control.
Weed control must start with preseason practises and even as far back as during the previous growing season where weeds should not be allowed to seed down. If at all possible, ploughing should be done in the winter for maximum moisture control or at the least a disking should be done in early spring to control those early germinating weeds. Another good way of controlling the early spring weeds, is to have a good sprayer set with the correct nozzles and then to apply a good quality herbicide like Roundup.
Good crop rotation systems, rotating herbicides and by combining both chemical and non-chemical weed control methods are all arrows in the quiver in the war against weeds. It is also important to control weeds along fences, contour banks, waterways, irrigation channels and other non-cropping areas.
Crops need to be able to benefit maximally from the nutrients naturally in the soil and from the fertilisers applied at planting, in order to develop strong roots that will result in a hardy strong plant. If the little seedlings are forced to share those nutrients with young weeds, especially invasive and strangling grasses, it is going to remain a weak plant which will struggle for the rest of its life and will never yield what it was supposed to.
The control of weeds post emergence is critical. It is a big mistake to neglect weed control practices and risk sacrificing as much as 20% of the potential crop at this stage of plant development.
Weeds also cause harvest problems. They influence the plant so that the actual quality of the grain is reduced. Weed-seed contamination of grain can also mean your harvest is downgraded and your fields will experience a re-infestation which will negatively influence the next crop.
Grain SA believes we are making a difference which will lead to transformed farming practices through our consistent and reliable interactions with farmers. We are always looking for like-minded stakeholders willing to contribute to this important work and we are truly grateful for the incredible partnerships we already have.
AT GRASS ROOTS
Practical knowledge and skills are needed to farm
Not only does the Grain SA Farmer Development team believe in face to face mentoring encounters with our farmer members but we also are always identifying knowledge gaps. The team identifies courses that will empower and upskill farmers in the different regions. These are life changing for many farmers and transform their farming possibilities and opportunities! Courses are delivered in indigenous languages at an appropriate level for a particular community. They are intended to make an immediate and practical difference to farmers on the farm and in the farm office.
A total of 48 training courses were held during January and February on the following topics:
Advanced sunflower production and marketing (1 course)
Introduction to groundnut production (1 course)
Introduction to maize production (7 courses)
Introduction to soybean production (2 courses)
Nixtamilisation (30 courses)
Practical skills course: Planter and boom sprayer calibration (7 courses)
The nixtamalisation course is hugely popular with farmers and their families. It teaches them new and diverse ways of utilising maize in previously unknown ways in their households and has inspired a number of small entrepreneurs to bake – and to grow small businesses.
During February field officers were primarily busy with farm visits to conduct crop inspections. A lot of work is being done to educate farmers about the importance of weed control and soil health. In most of the reports, farmers are being encouraged to practice chemical weed control and ensure they apply top dressing, particularly since the heavy rains have caused leeching.
A total of 267 contact meetings with farmers to mentor and advise them on the status of their crops and whether action is required to ensure success. Farm visits and study groups were held in these regions: