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Tomorrow’s journey is prepared today

October 2020

Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula contributor. Send an email to jennymathews@grainsa.co.za  

The player slotted the perfectly timed ball neatly behind the goalkeeper and a thunderous roar filled the football stadium as the spectators rose as one cheering the player and celebrating the win!

We all know the feeling. It’s like watching an artist paint the final brushstroke on his masterpiece, or a maestro conducting an orchestra in perfect harmony or even witnessing academic efforts being rewarded on that victorious walk across the graduation stage. We also know that special moments like these don’t just happen … it takes a lot of preparation and planning to reach the highest point of success in any game, in any activity – and it’s no different in farming. You have to recognise that although timing is very important, it is those difficult, behind the scenes, days, months and even years of preparation that make the successes possible. 

For sure, farming is all about timing. The changing of the seasons. The unpredictable weather patterns. The sowing of the seed. Spotting an unwelcome invading pest or disease. And then taking the crop off the field at exactly the right moment. Timing the marketing process has become increasingly more important. But in order to get the timing for all these processes right, one has to be prepared. We can talk about the many processes involved in running a farming operation as much as we like but if we don’t plan and prepare for each step along the way we will never be able to play the game – let alone score the winning goal! 

How many times have you listened to someone talking and talking about all they are going to do and all they will achieve and you think to yourself ‘I wonder if this is another one who is all talk and no action!?’

The bottom line is while many people will talk about doing something, far fewer people will actually get that thing done. Life is full of talkers and doers. We need to stop talking about what we want to do … and begin doing. I speak to myself too. I have always had a fairly decent food garden supplying my home and household, but with me it’s often feast or famine. One month I do not know where to turn with all the tomatoes coming in and another month, I am cross with myself because I was not good at keeping the plantings going throughout the season. This year I have promised myself I will stop talking about the ideal of sowing seed every 2 - 3 weeks and I will be consistent about sowing seed regularly. Here’s hoping 2020 has some good summer vegetables in store throughout the season! In the same way, a farmer has to be particularly well prepared to plant the next crop or prepare the heifers to receive the right bull for their first calves. 

Every project manager, team leader and successful person knows the importance of planning. There is no way any project will be executed without a plan – it does not mean there is no flexibility – it means you have a good idea of what needs to be done in order to achieve your goals. 

As we enter another summer season here on the southern tip of Africa, most farmers are eagerly looking forwards to planting the next season’s crops. And it follows a particularly good 2019/2020 season for summer grains which saw a higher than average rainfall – something we haven’t experienced for a good few years. In my corner of the North West, there was no lull on the farm once the harvest was off the fields because the residual moisture meant the fields were ready to be prepared immediately. So the combines had hardly been parked when tractors were out humming across fields to chop the stalks and rip the soils. Some farmers were also spraying a winter weedicide. 

These actions are all important to ensure control of the winter weeds and seed banks that threaten to use up precious moisture. And they are actions based on: 

  • Knowledge – there is residual moisture in the soils. 
  • Information – one must control weeds and conserve moisture whenever possible. 
  • Preparation – readiness to do the right thing at the right time with tractors and implements serviced and ready, as well as the budget for diesel and chemicals where necessary.

October month is ready and waiting for first rains. Farmers need to have already decided on their goals for the new season, what crops will be planted and where they will grow. Ideally soils should have already been prepared to control winter weeds and conserve last season’s moisture. Furthermore your production facility will have been arranged and you have sourced seed, fertiliser and fuel. Remember we can do what we can with what we have. Be realistic. Be disciplined. Stick to your budget. Don’t over-extend yourself. 

Soil samples should have been taken during July or August and the necessary liming operations should already be completed. Fertilisation programmes should be a priority for September and October if you follow a pre-plant programme, otherwise farmers must order and store fertiliser to apply at the same time as planting. 

Seed selection is critical now and many influencing factors should be discussed with your seed representatives – pick their brains, make them mentor you! Your budget is important in informing which seed you choose, because your genetically modified (GM) varieties are more expensive. Your seed sales representative should discuss the season and offer advice on short, medium and long-term growers. If the predictions are good for normal to good rains in the new season, the medium to long growers will normally hold better yield potential than the quick maturing varieties. And remember, if you don’t select GM and Roundup Ready seed cultivars, you need to have a good weedicide programme planned with the advice of your chemical representative.

Let’s take a look at your tractors and implements that will do the hard work getting your crop in the ground. We can’t emphasise enough the importance of pre-season maintenance. Down time costs farmers much more money than they realise. Losing precious planting time, while the moisture is steadily seeping away while a tractor or implement is in for repairs can mean the difference between 1 t/ha to 3 t/ha in yield lost and ultimately make or break a crop. 

Seed bed preparation is so important regardless whether you are a large commercial farmer or planting a field of maize for your household food supply. An even seed bed must be prepared. Every single maize seed requires:

  • Good seed to soil contact for germination.
  • Uniform depth in the seed bed.
  • Unrestricted space for healthy root development.
  • Good air, soil, nutrient movement potential.
  • Unrestricted seedling emergence potential. 
  • Warm soil temperatures.

Seed is very expensive so we need every pip planted to germinate and be productive. You need to know what the ideal plant population in your region is. It will be influenced by your regional rainfall and soil types so network and ask the local experts. 

The quality of the tools you use are as important as the work itself. For the maize farmer, the planter must surely be the most important tool. We do not need the biggest or newest planter but we do need to ensure our planters are serviced and functioning properly. The planter is key to planting the seed at an even depth to ensure best germination. A constant watchful eye should be kept on the planter bins, chains and other working parts, supervising the seed is being dropped consistently and correctly.

The Grain SA Farmer Development team wishes every farmer a successful new season. May our preparations make it possible to do the right things at the right time. May 2020/2021 bring more good rains and fruitfulness to our fields. May we see reward for our labours and may we as farmers, be a blessing to our families, our neighbours and our nation as we fill the storehouses with goodness from our fields. 

Publication: October 2020

Section: Pula/Imvula