Tobacco planting season starts

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SEPTEMBER 1 is the regulated date for farmers to start transplanting tobacco seedlings from seedbeds to the fields.
And farmers countrywide with irrigation facilities this week began the transplanting exercise.
Those that depend on rainfall continue to manage seedbeds and nurseries waiting for the onset of the rains.
The tobacco cycle starts in June when farmers prepare their seedbeds, in September planting begins mainly for farmers who irrigate their crop, harvesting starts in December and selling of the crop begins in February.
With calls being made to improve operations and turn around the fortunes of the agriculture sector, it is critical for farmers to adopt and adhere to correct production procedures to ensure improved yields.
Apart from transplanting, farmers should by now have registered or renewed their registration to avoid disappointments of paying US$100 fines compared to the US$10 required for registration.
The tobacco production sub-sector, a former preserve of white farmers, has grown over the years with production levels rising from an all-time low of 48,8 million kilogrammes (kg) in 2008 to 188,5 million kg last season.
If more is to be produced this season, those willing to be a cut above the rest, should have their houses in order and ensure that activities on the farm are in line with the various production stipulations.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) commodities specialist, Simbarashe Muchena said most farmers had adhered to the stipulated date to start transplanting.
“By last month most farmers had already prepared seedbeds and those who irrigate their crop have already started transplanting,” he said.
“We are looking forward to a good season provided that we receive adequate rains.
“Farmers are now transplanting their seedlings and the rain-dependent crop is still under seedling stage and will be transplanted with the onset of rains.”
Muchena said farmers should be aware that planting dates were not only synchronised with the rainy season, but also with pests and diseases.
“The dates are meant to break the life cycles of pests to reduce crop damage,” he said.
“The date is just the earliest date for planting hence growers can also grow beyond that date.”
Muchena urged farmers to continue acquiring skills for them to produce a quality crop.
Some farmers have in the past urged Government to review the gazetted irrigated tobacco planting dates as they no longer conform to prevailing weather patterns which have been affected by climate change.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa said those irrigating their crop were not affected by climate change.
“All our irrigated tobacco growers know what they are doing and they have started transplanting,” he said.
“Mostly climate change is about the rainfall patterns and temperatures and this does not affect those with irrigation facilities, as long as they have enough water in their water sources, then they will not be affected even if the rains are late in coming.”
Chabikwa said those who rely on the rains were the ones affected by the changing rainfall patterns.
“With rain-fed tobacco, a farmer has to plant three weeks before the onset of the rains and if the rains delay it means their crop will wilt,” he said.
“For small-holder farmers, if the rains delay, they can dig up holes next to the plants and fill them up with five litres of water, but this only serves those with a smaller hectarage.”
Chabikwa said the percentage of farmers irrigating their tobacco was small and efforts should be made to increase the numbers.
“Only about 25 percent of the tobacco growers use irrigation and normally, the irrigated crop has higher yields and better quality as compared to that which is rain-fed,” he said.
The country has over the years recorded poor harvests due to erratic rainfall patterns and this confirms the importance of moving away from rain-fed agriculture.
Farmers have been calling on Government to come up with meaningful contribution towards the setting up of viable irrigation infrastructure that can adequately sustain and guarantee the country of food security in face of drought.
Government as part of efforts to enhance agricultural activities has embarked on a programme to rehabilitate and establish irrigation schemes.
Chabikwa urged financial institutions to support the tobacco industry as it was poised for growth.
“With what is transpiring on the ground, the sector has potential to continue to grow hence there is need for stakeholders to support the growers,” he said.
Tobacco contributes 20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
The sector accounts for 40 percent of exports and supplies 63 percent of raw materials for agro industries.
The country exports 98 percent of semi-finished tobacco products, with the rest being consumed locally.

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