Wheat crop in jeopardy

Bureaucratic bungling, poor planning to affect wheat hectarage

Commercial Farmers’ Union By Peter Gambara

1 June 2017

Wheat takes five months to mature and those who plant around May 15 expect to harvest around October 15.

IT is highly unlikely that the targeted area of 50 000 hectares will be achieved now that the winter wheat planting season has closed as farmers continue to face a lot of challenges.

The winter planting period traditionally started on May 1 and closed on May 30; however, a few farmers may take the risk of continuing to plant into June.

Wheat takes five months to mature and those who plant around May 15 expect to harvest around October 15.

Those who take the risk to continue planting into June risk having their crop damaged by early October and November rains.

Late harvesting of the winter crop also pushes the summer season planting dates further.

Most farmers are faced with a challenge of failing to quickly remove the summer maize crop to pave way for the wheat crop, as the moisture level on the maize is still high.

The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) only accepts maize with a moisture level of 12 percent, but most of the maize is still way above that moisture level.

Farmers could have harvested the crop and placed it in driers, but the huge area planted to maize this season, means the few driers that are available cannot cope with the demand.

Government previously indicated its willingness to repair some non-functional driers that are located on the farms, but this never materialised and farmers are, therefore, stuck with their maize.

Firstly, there is a serious shortage of combine harvesters on the market.

Government went around the farms listing farmers who own combine harvesters and offering to contract them to work with the Command Agriculture contracted farmers.

These combines are too few and in some cases, they do not have maize heads.

Up to now, government has also failed to come up with the necessary arrangements on how contracted farmers can hire the listed harvesters.

Farmers should ideally get vouchers they can use to get a service from a service provider; government would then pay the service provider.

However, these vouchers are still not available and it is not a secret that farmers do not have the funds to hire the harvesters because they are yet to sell their summer crops.

To make matters worse, most farmers opted for the long season maize varieties such as SC727 or SC719, which require up to 158 days to mature.

Therefore a crop that was established around mid-November would only reach physiological maturity around April 22.

That crop would still require another three to four weeks to dry and therefore most of that crop is still too wet to meet the 12 percent moisture level desired at GMB.

The recent rains also worsened the situation for most farmers as the maize absorbed more moisture from those rains.

However, the planting period is fast closing and farmers are in a dilemma as to what to do.

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