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Record keeping – is your finger on the pulse?

January 2021

Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula 
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This summer season is critical to the sustainability of many maize farming enterprises. In many areas such as the North West and the Free State, we are starting out with good soil moisture levels, but many farming operations still have to cope with restricted budgets for new inputs due to the recovery time required following the series of droughts experienced. 

Maize production is a high-risk venture. If you are lucky enough to be one of those who had a good maize crop last season, then you can get started with a joyful heart.
There are a few key issues which need to be addressed on an annual basis in order to improve our chances at attaining high yields and also reduce our risks. This checklist should be reviewed every season; and an astute farmer and businessman will make sure that he or she is accurately recording the activities that take place on the farm every week. 

Record keeping is critically important as often one needs to look back and see the history of a particular field, for example:

  • What crop was planted in the field two years before?
  • What spray programme was used on the crop and how successful was it – were you satisfied with the performance of the chemicals you used? Will you follow the same programme again?
  • Do you know the service history of each implement, machine or tractor, for example when were the filters of a particular tractor last replaced? When were tyres replaced?

Every farmer should keep his finger on the pulse by enquiring and reading as much as possible all the time.

By keeping an eye on the weather records we are able to plan our farming operations much more efficiently. We can set planting dates that according to our records will most likely be a good time to plant with sufficient moisture. Obviously, the weather is never and will never be totally predictable. But we will always be able to have some kind of rough idea as to what will happen. This ability is an advantage that we as farmers need to grab a hold of – so start your own logbook now!


  • Take soil samples in good time so that fertiliser can be ordered.
  • Get advice from experts and representatives of the seed companies who know your area and discuss which varieties of maize seed you could plant.
  • Get to know the character and growing times of the different varieties of maize seeds, they are all different with different advantages for different growing conditions.
  • Make sure all your other inputs are ordered and ready for you to be able to use your window of opportunity to plant optimally.
  • Don’t plant too early where soil moisture content is still very low.
  • Make sure you have at least loosened your topsoil to promote the penetration of the rain when it does come i.e. through either disking or vibroflexing.
  • Make sure early weeds are controlled either chemically or with a tined implement to conserve the available moisture. Your weed control programme is critical and will affect the growth of your maize plant as well as the number of pips which develop on the cob so your entire harvest can be negatively affected by poor weed control through the season.
  • Do your maintenance on planters and other primary tillage implements i.e. replace tines on vibroflexes and shears on the ploughs as you do not need down time to fix implements especially if it only rains late as it sometimes happens these days.
  • Take a long-term view of the maize growing season and even before you have put your first seed pips into the ground consider your marketing options. Decide what you need for on farm use such as for household use and as livestock fodder and then consider how and where you will sell the rest of your crop. 
  • It is very important to become familiar with the way the South African grain trading market works even if you have an agent who assists you. Take the time to get help so you understand the futures exchange on the JSE and how it works. Make sure you understand the location differential and what its purpose is so that you can negotiate the best possible prices for your maize crop.
  • Crop insurance is costly but could be helpful in a particularly risky season. It is advisable to contact your agribusiness or credit supplier and discuss your options and whether you could qualify for crop insurance for this coming season. You cannot take it for granted that you will qualify as insurance companies are not guaranteed to automatically offer you cover.

Be disciplined throughout the maize growing season. It is not wise to spend a lot of money putting a crop of maize in and then not monitoring it and managing it in the long term. 

  • This means being present in your fields almost daily.
  • It means maintaining your tractors and implements in good working order. 
  • It means keeping all your stocks neatly stored in your shed until required and chemicals and poisons safely under lock and key.
  • It means good, consistent record keeping – keeping your accounts and office administration neat and up to date. 
  • It means picking the brains of local experts and other more advanced farmers in your area.
  • It means joining your organisation, Grain SA, and attending meetings, study groups and training courses on an on-going basis – and reading our informative Pula Imvula monthly from cover to cover too of course!

No farmer can ever say he has learnt all there is to know. The maize growing environment is dynamic, progressive and ever changing as seed companies strive to improve their seeds and chemical companies offer new, more efficient products. It is up to every maize farmer to enquire and read as much as possible all the time and in this way equip him or herself to become a better farmer by keeping a finger on the pulse of the dynamic maize industry in our country. 

Publication: January 2021

Section: Pula/Imvula