WITH most summer crops ripe, harvesting is underway, with emphasis on the storage of the harvested crop considered key in ensuring farmers get good returns.
Experts contend that harvesting between March and June helps prevent grain loss to birds.
Most commercial farmers only store harvested maize for a short period, until they arrange delivery to the market.
For small-scale communal farmers who are faced with a wider variety of marketing situations, maize is stored for a longer period.
If there is a buyer they are able to sell their maize immediately and not worry about storage but if there is no buyer, then they would have to store their maize until such time as they can arrange its sale.
Mashonaland West-based extension officer Henry Maramwidze told The Patriot storage requirements had changed significantly from the days when farmers only had to worry about storing their own food requirements and some seed for the following planting season.
“This was nearly always a local variety of maize and was stored on the cob, without use of pesticides, in an open granary,” he said.
“However, maize for marketing is now mainly hybrid maize which, because of its shorter and looser husks, should ideally be stored shelled in a closed store with the use of pesticide.”
Maramwidze said maize reaches physiological maturity between 130 and 160 days after planting, depending on the variety.
“At this stage, the crop has a moisture content of about 30 percent, and can be harvested provided that adequate drying facilities are available,” he said.
“However, small-scale farmers often harvest their maize long after it has reached physiological maturity, largely because they lack suitable drying facilities.
“Harvesting may be delayed by up to two months in order to allow the maize to dry.”
Maramwidze said it is common for the cobs to be left on the field for a further period, on piled, cut maize stalks.
“Delayed harvesting leads to many problems; in general, it can be said that the longer maize stays unprotected on the field after it has reached full maturity, the higher the losses,” he said.
“Reasons for this are it is exposed to attacks by termites, rodents and domestic animals and it can be infested by insects.”
He encouraged farmers to pay particular attention to both harvesting and storing of grains as this would affect the quality of the crop.
“The quality of the crop is negatively affected if proper harvesting and storing measures are not taken,” he said.
“We find that some farmers have left maize to dry in the fields and in some parts of the country in the last two weeks rains were received and this could affect the crop.
“So we encourage farmers to take harvesting periods seriously.”
He said two simple methods that could be used to sun-dry shelled maize after it has been partially dried on the cob are drying on a plastic sheet on the ground or drying in a drying tunnel.
“After the removal of the cobs, leave the remaining stover lying in the field to improve the soil quality,” said Maramwidze.
“Leave roots in the soil to break down and further improve its structure.
“Slash weeds (if any) immediately after harvesting to prevent them from producing seeds.”
Farmers, he said, could thereafter prepare holes in the same position as the previous season and reuse these holes, with minor repairs, for the next crop.
“Where a farmer is considering crop rotation, soyabeans, groundnuts and sugar beans are suitable legumes to rotate with maize,” he said.
Maramwidze said farmers, after completing the harvesting of crops, should engage in winter ploughing.
“Winter ploughing is a key process of maize production as it has a bearing on the yields and farmers should not neglect it,” he said.
“The process assists in ensuring the soil retains its moisture and repairs it in preparation for the next crop and it also helps with time management as when the rains come farmers would be ready to start planting. “
As the country seeks to revive the agricultural sector it is hoped farmers continue to adhere to proper farming practices to ensure they maximise on yields.