‘Don’t give up on wheat’

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THE winter wheat National Enhanced Productivity Programme (NEPP), which was initially targeting at least 60 000 hectares of the cereal crop, has attracted more farmers resulting in CBZ Agro Yield availing more inputs for another 5 000 hectares.

Statistics from Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Ministry indicate that more than 

30 000 hectares of winter wheat planted this season have so far germinated.

“We are very happy to announce that under the national enhanced productivity programme, about 20 000 hectares of the targeted 60 hectares have already germinated while 11 000 of the 15 000 targeted under private sector have germinated,” said the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Dr John Bhasera.

“We urge farmers to continue and expedite planting up to the 10th of June to achieve the national target of 85 000 ha.

“As we speak, we have contracted more than 60 000 ha and we are happy to announce that farmers who wish to plant more can come and apply for more inputs as we have set aside another  5 000 ha worth of inputs.”

The country requires 460 000 tonnes of wheat every year and current efforts by Government are expected to progressively increase production to erase the deficit.

Meanwhile, Agronomist Ivan Craig encouraged farmers not to give up on wheat production as it is a vital crop and there is room for farmers to make a profit.

“The secret is in the yield, hence farmers should make sure they achieve maximum yield/ha and, in turn, they will make a profit,” said Craig.

“The maximum yield per ha is between eight and 11 tonnes and even if farmers produce five tonnes, they will still be able to break even.”

Farmers have cited high costs of production as a huge drawback and the reason locally produced wheat is priced higher than that in neighbouring countries.

Electricity costs of between US$700 and US$800 to irrigate a ha of the crop per season have also made it difficult for farmers to break even.

A hectare of wheat is irrigated after seven days for eight hours before germination and after every 14 days for eight hours after germination until it is harvested.

Craig said for farmers to realise maximum yields, they should follow the correct procedures and ensure they have the right and adequate inputs.

“A farmer should ensure land is well prepared and there is enough water to see the crop from establishment to harvesting,” he said.

“Farmers can approach Agricultural Technical Extension Services (AGRITEX) and have them do a feasibility study to determine the actual amount of water in their water source and afterwards advise on the crop that can be sustained with their water.

“After determining the size of the field, farmers should ensure it is prepared and have adequate seed and fertilisers.”

When using the broadcasting planting method, farmers require 135-140 kg of seed per hectare and when using the drilling method, 120-125 kg is required.

Before planting, said Craig, the field should be irrigated until it is saturated.

“After planting it will take up to four days before the plant starts to sprout and water should be withdrawn for 21 days as this encourages deeper development of the roots and the full utilisation of residual nutrients,” he said.

“After 21 days, full irrigation cycle resumes and, for those in sandy soils, it should be after every eight-nine days, depending on the rate of evaporation, while for those in heavy soils, after every 12-14 days.”

Craig said after 21 days of planting, it is advisable to then apply herbicides and top dressing.

Compound D fertiliser is applied just before planting.

“Those in heavy soils should apply 350kg of top dressing fertiliser per ha while those in sandy soils, between 400-450kg,” said Craig.

“If the fertiliser is to be applied using the broadcasting method, the application should be split into two; for instance those in sandy soils can apply 225kg/ha after the 21 days and the other 225kg after two weeks.”

Regular inspections to check for weeds, pests and diseases is important, said Craig.

He said the crop should be safeguarded from veld fires and logging.

“Farmers should develop a passion for the crop and if they notice anything amiss, be it pests or diseases, they should take a specimen to AGRITEX officials who will assess and recommend corrective measures,” he said.

“The major challenge in wheat production is the quelea birds which cause serious damage.

“When faced with this challenge, a farmer should notify the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority who will offer control methods.”

If correct procedures are followed, yields will be maximised with farmers breaking even, resulting in the wheat production sector rebounding.

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