Samuel Kadungure Senior Farming Reporter—
MAIZE planting in Manicaland has hit the 120 000ha mark, amid optimism for an increase in light of continuous precipitation and distribution agriculture inputs under Command Agriculture and Presidential Inputs Schemes.By this period last year, Manicaland had planted 90 309.3ha, though the bulky of it was decimated before reaching maturity by the El Nino induced drought, resulting in the province failing to produce enough grain to feed its growing population.
The highest hectarage the province in the last six seasons was 172 854 planted in 2011.
Acting Agritex Provincial Officer (Manicaland) Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa — who took over the reins from Mr Godfrey Mamhare — who retired at the end of last year said 95 percent of the province was wet due to continuous rains and farmers were still planting.
Mrs Rwambiwa said the crop was in a very good condition, with first crop, planted in November at the knee-high to late vegetative stage and requiring top-dressing as a matter of urgency while the second crop, planted in December, is at the germination to knee-high stage and requiring top dressing in the next few weeks.
“So far 114 722ha of maize have been planted across the province compared to 90 309.3ha at the same time last year. The condition of the crop ranges from fair to very good. The nutrient component is fair as the basal fertiliser may not have been adequate.
“Some 13 999.9ha were planted in November 2016 and now require top-dressing as a matter of urgency. An additional 100 726ha were planted in December 2016, and by next week farmers should also start top-dressing. The top-dressing application should be split 50\50 or 75/25 to guard against possible leaching by the incessant rains,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
The country is experiencing an acute shortage of fertilisers as the manufacturing firms’ capacity to meet demand under Command Agriculture and other private farmers was allegedly compromised due to lack of foreign currency to import raw materials.
The shortage of fertilisers and emergence of the deadly fall armyworm pest are posing serious threat the summer maize crop.
Fall armyworm — a pest notorious for defoliating cereal crops and green pastures has invaded Nyanga, Mutasa, Chipinge, Makoni and Mutare districts amid reports of failure of remedial efforts to control them.
The armyworm outbreak has caused a panic within affected farming communities as the severe attack of crops and velds by the devastating armyworms may result in farmers either replanting or failing to realize initially projected yields.
The fall armyworm is a chronic pest that feeds on a variety of well-fertilised crops such as maize, pearl millet, sorghum and pastures.
The pest, which can wreak havoc in fields if left to multiply, derives its name from its feeding habits. It eats everything in an area and once the food supply is exhausted, the entire “army” will move to the next available food source.
Fall armyworms are most numerous in early fall and another reason for the sudden appearance of this insect is that “march into” an uninfested area in search of food once an adjacent field has been defoliated.
Mrs Rwambiwa said, as with other pests, timing to combat the fall armyworm was critical.
“Farmers are discovering the bad pest at a growth stage when it could no longer be controlled. Farmers should daily scout their fields, inspecting the plants to see if there are no tiny caterpillars hidden in the maize funnels. The symptoms are salient and as a result farmers detect the pest by means of its waste, and in most cases they would have outgrown the stage at which they could be controlled, worsening the damage,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
It has become a norm in the past seasons that weeks preceding heavy rains will see a massive outbreak of caterpillars, which are derided for eating crops and pastures.
More rainfall brings more moths and, ultimately, fresh outbreaks.
The worms can be combated by spraying carbrayl and heavy rains also destroy armyworms as they are susceptible to cold weather.
However, the incessant rains are often blamed for submerging the same cereal crops, with farmers often complaining of leaching.