Land preparation vital to successful cropping

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SOON the 2016/2017 summer cropping season will commence and its success is hinged on more than the availability of working capital.
‘Land preparations lagging behind’ has become a common mantra every cropping season.
And this has had a devastating effect on the final output of the cropping season. Soil tillage or land preparation is one of the routine activities in most agricultural systems. Often, land preparation starts with burning fallow vegetation or previous crop residues in order to clear the land.
According to experts, modern day agriculture should produce more yields per hectare.
Agronomist Prosper Matanda said the secret to high yields lay in land preparations.
“No part is more important than the other in agricultural production, land preparation is not regarded as a critical part, but it is,” said Matanda.
“Land preparation is more than putting a tractor onto the field, it is a delicate science that will determine the overall output of a field.”
Land preparation has an impact on crop establishment and how fertilisers are used by crops as well as weed management.
All this is dependent on the state of land preparation, he said.
“Before one plants his or her crop, it is important to know what kind of soil you are working with, so you can improve it, amend it as needed for growing the best crops. Looking at soil texture and fertility and amending as needed are the first steps to preparing land for planting,” said Matanda.
“It is critical to get your soil tested by a laboratory. Soil testing will allow you to amend your soil to be more productive. It will help you select the right kind and amount of fertiliser and liming material.”
When to test your soil
It is important to test the soil before planting, preferably several months before planting so that there is time to lime the soil and have it mix with the existing soil before planting.
Lime reacts slowly with the soil, so having time before planting is important.
What soil tests to request
You may be wondering what exactly you need to know about your soil. The standard tests are the following: Organic matter, Phosphorus, Potassium Calcium, Magnesium, Sodium, Soil pH or acidity. You may need some additional tests and you can ask your extension officer what he/she recommends.
How to take a soil sample
Taking a good soil sample is key to getting good results from your soil testing. Each soil sample should represent one type of soil or one soil condition for example, pasture versus vegetable garden, or upland versus lowland. Take separate samples from each area.
Sample a typical area. 
Avoid unusual areas, like where manure was piled, or where you know there is a band of fertiliser.
Don’t contaminate your sample. Use clean tools to dig your sample, making sure there is no fertiliser residue or other contamination on them. Don’t use galvanised, brass or bronze tools to collect samples if you are testing for micronutrients, as these materials will contaminate your sample.
Sample to the proper depth. The proper depth is the depth of the roots of your plants. For most annual and perennial crops, this means six (15cm) to nine (23cm) inches below the surface.
Determine your soil type Soil is usually classified as clay, sandy or loamy.
Clay soils are rich in nutrients but tend to hold water. Sandy soils are just what they sound like – quick-draining and high in sand. Loam soils retain moisture without bogging down and are fluffy and full of air pockets and nutrients.
There are several ways to test your soil, but the easiest is to pick up a handful of moistened soil and squeeze it. Here is how different types of soil will react:
Loam will hold its shape, then crumble with a poke.
Clay will hold its shape even when poked.
Sand will not hold its shape and will fall apart when you open your hand.
It’s also a good idea to have soil type and pH tested  
They can also test your soil for various contaminants such as lead – important information to have before you use that soil to grow food.
Amend the soil
Once you know what kind of soil you have, and if you have any pH issues or nutrient deficiencies, you can begin amending it.
Adjust pH. Proceed somewhat carefully here, as changing pH can be trickier than it initially seems. Give it time and retest your soil.
Consider choosing crops that work with your existing soil pH. 
For acidic soil, you can add lime.
For soil that’s too alkaline, add sulphur.
Add organic matter. Increasing the amount of organic matter is probably one of the most important things you can do to improve your soil no matter what its current type. Compost, animal manure, grass clippings, leaf mold and green manures (cover crops) are all great organic matter to add.
At least three inches (8cm) of organic matter spread over the surface to be planted should be added – and four to six is better. – Source – https://smallfarm.about.com

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