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Time and tide wait for no man - make sure you have a plan!

October 2016

In farming we need to strive for perfection. Obviously we deal with the environment and the unpredictable natural world, and not everything always goes according to plan. But if we don't strive for excellence, it won't be achieved.

In agriculture there are many aspects to the planning process. Each season has its own set of tasks that need to be performed and they need to be planned well in advance so your time can be used productively. The old proverb says, ‘If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you will become part of someone else’s!’ – And that is not where we want to end up! In this article I would like to specifically discuss the planning processes during the planting time and the weeks leading up to this time.

Make sure that your inputs are ordered well in advance, and are stored away safely ready to be used when the time comes. Be sure to perform all soil analysis soon after the completion of the previous season so that you have time to plan for the soils requirements. The soil is your most important resource; it is your factory to produce crops. It is essential that you understand your soil and what it needs. This is your first priority. If your soil requires lime to balance acidity, then make sure that you apply it. Do not cut corners in order to save a few rands as you will end up paying the price when it comes to harvest time. Be sure that your fertilisation is structured around the results of your soil analysis. You do soil sampling for a reason. It is wise to take the recommendations into account.

Once you have decided which crop you would like to plant, you should then take a closer look at your land in order to determine how best to prepare the soil to create the desired seed bed. Different crops prefer different growing conditions. One should also assess the implements that will be performing the task to make sure that all equipment is configured correctly. Let's say that you have decided on planting maize. Firstly, you should decide which cultivar you wish to plant. There is a wide variety of options today, so in order to make the correct selection I would suggest that you consult your local seed representative. He will be able to discuss past trial results under conditions which are similar to those in your land. One should then consider your target yield. You will do this by looking at historic yield averages in your area. The reason you do this is to assist you with calculating your fertiliser requirements.

Now that your inputs are ordered and stored away safely, you can take time to check over all the equipment and machinery that you will be using to perform the different jobs with. Firstly, your planter: This is the most important piece of machinery that needs to be working perfectly. Calibration should be done before the planter even enters the field. From your previous planning you should know what plant population you desire and what plant mix fertiliser application you decided was required. Now you need to set your planter up to plant at these desired rates. Be sure to do a double check once you start working in the field as a miss calculation can be a big cost once you reach the end of the field. Now your planter is ready.

Next we need to consider the seed bed preparation. This will depend on your specific farming practices. Perhaps you employ no-tillage practices. In that case you need not worry too much about a seed bed as your land will already have a good seed bed of fine mulch and old crop residues. But let us consider a conventional set up for the sake of this article. Firstly, one will need to break up the soil compaction with a disc or plough. Next you will need to break the clods and sods into a finer soil aggregate by using a soil harrow such as a Vibroflex. One should now be left with a good seed bed, free of big clods with a decent layer of soft loose soil. This is essential as the planter needs to be able to penetrate well in order for the seed to lodge nicely in loose damp soil. The pressure wheels running behind the seed colters will apply just enough force to firmly close the soil over the seed.

‘If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’ – Martin Luther King

If the seed bed is done well throughout the entire field and the planter has done a good job of planting the seed, we should see a nice uniform emergence of seedlings. If the follow up programs such as herbicide and pesticide application are done with the same care and attention to detail that the planting process was done, then we can expect excellent yields from our maize crop. As long as we strive for perfection and get out there to make it happen. I heard an old African Proverb that inspires me to get going: ‘The lion that stays at home too long will start to feel like a cat!

Article submitted by Gavin Mathews, Bachelor in Environmental Management.
For more information, send an email to gavmat@gmail.com.


Publication: October 2016

Section: Pula/Imvula