Samuel Kadungure Senior Reporter
MANICALAND is set to record its biggest grain yield in decades as the province is expecting to harvest at least 270 000 tonnes of maize and 60 000t of an assortment of small grains.
The 2016/17 season ranks as the mother of all agricultural seasons, as the yields will certainly make significant changes to food deficits created by recent consecutive seasons of poor cropping.
Statistics released by the acting Manicaland Agritex Provincial Officer, Mrs Phillipa Rwambiwa indicate that a total of 265 000 hectares of maize were planted, of which 14.580ha were under the Command Agriculture programme and 250 420ha were planted by smallholder A1, old resettlement and communal farmers, most of whom received assistance under the Presidential Inputs Scheme. Agronomists are using a conservative average yield of 1.5t/ha for the smallholder farmers and 2.8t/ha for commercial and command agriculture yield.
An average yield of 41 000t is expected under the Command Agriculture programme, leaving smallholders farmers being the major contributors to the provincial grain pool, with a projected average yield of 229 000t.
Sorghum constituted 59 000ha and 36 300t are expected at an average yield of 0.6t/ha, while 39 000ha were put under pearl millet and 19 500t are expected at an average of 0.5t/ha.
Statistics for finger millet were not readily available.
“The season was very good. Actually, there is no past season that is near this one. The season was quite good with the highest rainfall throughout. Manicaland received an average of 1 015mm of rainfall, which is 636mm more than last year. We did not have many cases of dry spells. Our five-day periods were wet and were able to supply adequate moisture to the crops. Also, a good number of farmers received adequate inputs, though in some cases top-dressing fertiliser came a bit late,” said Mrs Rwambiwa. Since the turn of the millennium (2000), Manicaland has not received such good rains, as the crop suffered immensely owing to a combination of late, erratic rains, severe mid-season dry spell and erratic application of fertilisers.
“The decreased rainfall and rising temperatures had thrown many farmers in Manicaland into confusion, as the rain unpredictability, induced by the El-Nino phenomenon, made it difficult for them to plan properly.
“We are happy with the 2016/17 yield and no cropping season is as close to this just-ended one,” said Mrs Rwambiwa. She said only 200ha were destroyed by the fall armyworm, a pets notorious for its profuse ravaging of maize crops if left to multiply.
Mrs Rwambiwa said fall armyworm was uncommon in Zimbabwe, and its emergence came as a surprise, with unsuspecting farmers mistaking them for stalk borers.
The chronic pest attacked a variety of well-fertilised crops such as maize, pearl millet, sorghum and pastures and farmers should wary about these caterpillars next season.
Mr Rwambiwa said harvesting was not in full throttle due to lack of shelling and harvesting machines and high moisture content, resulting in low deliveries to the grain utility.
To date, only 541t have been delivered at GMB depots across the province.
Most farmers have not started harvesting since they are not able to sell to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) due to high moisture content.
Mrs Rwambiwa said GMB was insisting on 12.5 percent and farmers were regularly testing, but the levels were still high, thereby hindering harvesting.
The maize crop is now under threat from veld fires, termites, theft, stray animals and moulding.
Mrs Rwambiwa admitted that farmers were now in a fix as the drying waiting period continues dragging and becoming uneconomical for those with large hectarage.
“The moisture content is still high, therefore farmers cannot harvest and sell to GMB. GMB is not accepting even maize with 13 percent moisture. What is shocking is that the same grain is not moulding in the farmers’ sheds,” said Mrs Rwambiwa.
“The other challenge is that those with large hectarage require combine harvesters, and those that are there constantly break down and need maintenance. Empty bags are also an issue because GMB is insisting on its own bags, which farmers do not have. Those that have shelled are using their own bags, leading to double handling as they will be forced to use the bags from GMB.
“Also during the drying waiting period, farmers are expected to maintain and protect the un-harvested grain from insect and pests, veld fires, theft and stray animals, otherwise they risk accruing huge losses,” said Mrs Rwambiwa. Mrs Rwambiwa said farmers should begin preparations for the 2017/18 season.
She emphasised that farmers should do soil testing to be properly advised on nutrient requirement for the next rotation crop, drainage repairs and land preparation.
Registration for Command Agriculture has started.