PRINCIPLES OF CROP ESTABLISHMENT
Crop establishment is a process that goes through several stages. It is important to follow the correct guidelines when establishing your farming business.
PREPARATION BEFORE CROP ESTABLISHMENT
The first stage of crop establishment is not ploughing the land or planting the seeds. There should be a preparation phase that precedes this exercise.
Preparation is very important. In life, success happens when preparation meets with opportunity. This can be expressed in the formula below:
Preparation + Opportunity = success
There is a common saying that ‘opportunity comes but only once’. This saying is not true.
The truth is that opportunities are always there. What is lacking is the readiness to take those opportunities. This readiness is all about preparation. We miss out on opportunity because we are not prepared when it comes knocking. As a result, we do not succeed.
During preparation stage, you look ahead into the future of the business before you begin and you make the necessary preparations. It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.
The wise saying ‘give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe’ illustrates the importance of preparation. The longer the time you spend preparing, the faster it will take you to accomplish your objective. The converse is also true.
During preparation for crop establishment, the following are critically considered:
1) Opportunity cost:
In business, this refers to the cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a certain action. It also means the benefits you could have received by taking the alternative action.
Opportunity cost means that before you embark on establishing the crop, you weigh all alternative ventures you could have undertaken. For example, if you have one acre of land, you look at all available options you can do with that land and then you choose the best.
E.g, you could use that land for agriculture, you could plant trees, you could put up rental houses, a hotel, you could leave the land fallow and allow its value to go up etc.
Most people do not determine the opportunity cost before they choose the activity they undertake. Even when they decide to go into agriculture, they still do not undertake the opportunity cost. In North Rift, the main farming done is either maize or dairy farming. Question is, have these farmers done the opportunity cost and determined that maize and dairy are the best options? Most likely they have not. They get into these because every farmer is doing so.
If you decide to go into passion fruit farming, your opportunity cost is the alternative crop that might have been grown instead of the passion fruits.
Opportunity cost enables the farmer to determine how much money to invest in the chosen enterprise and the returns, in relation to other enterprises.
2) Consider the market.
It is important to know in advance where you will market your crop. If possible, you should even sign a contract with the buyer. This contract should be clear on the buying price, volumes and when payment will be done. Many farmers have suffered because they grow the crop and when it is ready, they start looking for the market.
Proximity to the market is also important as it will affect the crop in terms of cost of transport of produce thereby affecting the profitability of the venture.
Consider also the seasonality of the markets. Make sure you understand the best marketing time for your crop and maximise your production there. E.g for most vegetable crops, the best times to have a crop in the market are February to June while the worst times are July to October.
Some crops have a regular harvest period. Examples are passion fruits and bananas. For such crops, the marketing is much easier because all you need is to concentrate on quality and quantity and you will get a good constant market.
3) Come up with an overall farm plan.
This is critical especially for a crop that will be in the farm for a long time eg fruit crops, coffee, tea etc. It also applies for permanent buildings. Ensure you get a location that best suits that crop.
4) Consider the environmental requirements of the crop.
The crop should be grown in the right climate. The climate is especially critical with respect to the flowering and fruiting habits of the crop.
Certain crops will not form flowers when the temperature exceed certain ranges eg temperate fruit crops like apples and pears will not form flowers at warmer temperature.
Similarly, fruits will grow slowly when the temperature reduces. Eg passion fruits will ripen within a month of flowering under warm temperature but under low temperature, ripening can take 2 months. This means that passion fruit grown in warmer climates will yield more than those grown in colder temperature.
5) Consider the scale of production
We usually look at scale of production from a land size perspective. We consider small land size as small scale and large land side as large scale. However, this can be inaccurate.
Scale also is determined by the inputs used, the output and the seriousness which the farmer takes his crop. Someone doing 10 acres of maize can be seen as large scale, while someone doing 2 acres of tomatoes, passion fruits or flower crop can be seen as small scale. However, when you look at it from the input and output perspective, the picture completely changes.
The maize farmer may make 500,000 from the 10 acres of maize, while the tomato farmer may make 1 million from 2 acres. He may also make 2 million from the 2 acres of passion or 10 million from the under one acre of roses. So which farmer then is large scale?
Ultimately, every farmer should aim at going large scale since it is not necessarily based on the size of land available.
Large scale is more about the attitude and perspective of the farmer than about land size. A farmer also needs to have more skills in order to succeed and go large scale.
What are these skills that a farmer needs to have in order to succeed?
To answer this question, one needs to ask, what is the difference between a successful farmer and an unsuccessful one? What steps should a farmer take in order to succeed?
- Successful farmers think big.
In fact successful farmers think biggest! Thinking big precedes great achievement. Thinking big is all about having a good attitude and having big dreams.
The size of your success is determined by the size of your dream.
All successful people are big dreamers. They imagine what their future could be, and then they work everyday towards their vision, goal or purpose.
- Start small.
Most successful farmers started small and expanded over time. It is very important to start small. Growth is an erratic forward movement: two steps forward and one step back. This is especially true in agriculture because there are many factors determining your success. It takes alot of time, effort and experience to overcome most of the challenges in agriculture. Once you overcome those challenges, then you are assured of success.
Many farmers make the mistake of starting in a big way. E.g they may start by doing 5 acres of tomatoes, 2 acres of passion fruits etc. Such farmers are too impatient. They want instant success. This hardly happens and they end up incurring huge losses and giving up.
The best approach is to use the first establish a small area as your learning crop. Don’t expect to make any profits with that crop. Don not use much money in that crop. As you understand the crop, its challenges and how to overcome them, then you can increase both in size and scale.
- Successful farmers have a plan on how to go about their farming operations. Preferably, this plan should be written down. It should be prepared in consultation with an expert.
It pays to plan ahead. Success is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent planning, commitment to excellence and focused effort.
The following are important planning questions you need to have in mind before you begin establishment:
How much will it cost me to establish the farming business? Have a thorough understanding of all the costs involved until you harvest the crop.
- Do I have access to the funds needed to cover this cost? Ask yourself if you have all the money you need, or if you can access the money as soon as your need. You may not have ready cash, but you can get the money as the need arises. You can borrow, take a loan, sell an asset etc etc.
- Access to money is one of the major reasons why the farming may fail. If suddenly your crop is attacked by diseases and you do not have the money to buy the fungicides, then you loose on the crop.
- If I choose to borrow money, can I afford to repay without affecting my other commitments? Suppose I take a loan, am I able to repay this loan without affecting my other commitments eg paying rent, school fees, shopping etc
- What impact would crop loss or failure have on the enterprise and my other commitments? Failure is common in agricultural enterprises. Ask yourself, suppose I do not succeed, will I still be in a position to repay the borrowed money? Will I still pay school fees, rent and other commitments? Will I still have money to restart the farming again and correct the mistakes that have led to the failure?
- What technical, financial and management skills do I need in place to minimize the risk of crop loss? This is very important. The failure could have come as a result of the above challenges. You need to be prepared by having the right skills that will allow you to minimise the risk of failure.
Planning for establishment should start at least 2-3 years in advance to allow for enough time to:
- Prepare an accurate budget
- plan labour and equipment procurement. Good quality labour can be hard to get. You need enough time to source for the labour that you need.
- Identify and correct any drainage or nutritional problems. It gives you enough time to carry out soil conservation measures like terracing and improvement of drainage. It also gives you enough time to carry out soil nutrient analysis and undertake the suggested corrections/amendments on the soil.
- Determine if fumigation is required. Many crops are sensitive to soil borne diseases. E.g passion fruits are very susceptible to Fusarium wilt and Phytophtora blight. These diseases frequently lead to crop failure.
- Before you plant your crop, you need to carry out analysis to determine if your soil is infected or not. If the soil is infected, then you need to carry out fumigation to rid the soil of the infection before you begin.
- Gain as much hands-on experience and access production and marketing information on the chosen enterprise. This is very important. You may need to seek employment or attachment/mentorship in a successful farm and learn the hands-on practices of agricultural production.
- Successful farmers seek out knowledge and take advice.They value teamwork, see themselves as members of a team (comprising other technical, financial and management experts whom they employ/consult and remunerate well). They are not shy to travel far distances in search of information.
- Successful farmers do not quit but persist until they overcome all challenges they face. Persistence is very important. No one succeeds without persistence.Unsuccessful farmers quit in the face of sustained pressure. Many unsuccessful people did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.
- Successful farmers know how to fail forward.The greatest difference between successful people and unsuccessful ones lies in how each perceives and responds to failure. Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently. If you make mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always another chance for you. What we call failure is not the falling down but the staying down.
When you fail in your farming operation, you should not give up. Instead, reflect on that failure and find out what went. Use this knowledge to take you forward.
SOURCE: Young Farmers Forum
by Dr Daniel Chebet