THE winter cropping season is time for farmers who choose to take a break to go back to the drawing board and strategise for an improved 2018/2019 season.
The harvesting of most crops is already done and so is the selling of crops with most farmers now planning for the forthcoming summer cropping season.
Experts contend that after harvesting and marketing of crops, farmers do not necessarily have to take a break but instead start preparations for the next cropping season if they want to continue increasing yields.
With stakeholders in the agriculture sector geared for the rebounding sector, strides are being made to ensure farmers continue to acquire knowledge and embrace best farming practices to maximise production.
Wheat and most horticulture crops are produced in winter.
May 1 marked the traditional planting date for winter wheat and the question remains: Will the cereal output levels increase this season the back of the myriad challenges in the sector?
Limited farmer support to finance the crop in terms of inputs as most farmers lack collateral to borrow from the bank as well as tight liquidity constraints are some of the challenges impeding wheat production.
The uncertainty in the wheat production sector, which had become a perennial feature, was worrying.
Government, for the 2018 winter season, launched a
67 000-hectare Command Wheat Programme under which 50 000 hectares will be funded by Sakunda, with a further 17 000 hectares funded by other contractors.
With an average yield of four tonnes per hectare expected, the country is set to realise 268 000 tonnes of wheat.
The country requires 460 000 tonnes of wheat every year and current efforts are expected to progressively increase production to wipe away the deficit.
Experts said, during winter, farmers were expected to plough the land, have soil tested and apply lime as these activities were important in maximising yields.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Wonder Chabikwa said if farmers hoped to get better yields, preparations for the next summer season should start now.
“Winter is not a time to rest but to prepare for the cropping season,” said Chabikwa.
“Most farmers neglect to plough the land after harvesting waiting to do it when the rains fall yet it would be time for them to start planting.”
“One finds that the soil is still wet from the rains received and ploughing now conserves moisture rather than in October when the soils would have already dried up.”
“Crop residual trashes from the previous plants are ploughed underground and they will decompose, forming humus thereby adding fertility and improving aeration.
“The decomposed trashes make nutritious feed for the worms underground which help in the restructuring of the soil.”
Winter ploughing assists in weed control, said Chabikwa.
“If the fields are not ploughed weeds continue to grow and scatter seeds around the fields but through ploughing, the weeds are ploughed under and they also decompose and become manure,” he said.
Apart from winter ploughing, agronomist Ivan Craig encouraged farmers to have soils tested to ensure proper planning of the crops to be grown in the following season as well as amounts of fertilisers required.
“This is the time for farmers to take their soils to reputable laboratories for testing and it is important that farmers do the pH and full analysis for better results,” he said.
“The pH test helps determine the acidity and alkalinity levels and the full analysis helps determine the nutrients available in the soils and those in short supply.
“Having soils tested means the farmer will be able to address the imbalances before the cropping season starts.”
Soil testing for sandy soils is usually done every fourth year and that of heavy soils in every sixth year.
Testing pH levels is recommended to be done yearly.
Craig encouraged farmers to apply lime during the winter period after having soils tested.
“It is important farmers apply lime and gypsum to their soils especially soon after winter ploughing the fields, that is three months before planting,” he said.
“Lime helps re-nourish the soils before planting and this will help increase the yields.
“Re-nourishing the soils with lime helps ensure that during the planting stage when fertilisers are applied, they dissolve to soil solution enabling them to spread underground and made available to the crops.”
Lime should be applied after every four years and it should be applied after the soils have been tested.