Conservation agriculture cuts production costs for farmers

Conservation agriculture in maize production can save farmers more than Sh10,000 from one acre per growing besides boosting yields.

Festus Mutemi, an agribusiness officer, said agriculture reduces disturbance of the soil as well as gradually increasing fertility with time.

Conservation agriculture entails minimum tillage and application of agrochemicals. It encourages use of dead matter to recycle and conserve soil fertility and moisture in addition to smothering weeds by mulching.

“A farmer requires about Sh6,000 for two rounds of tillage per acre ahead of maize planting. Planting with a single or no tillage saves a farmer Sh3,000 or Sh6,000 respectively,” Mutemi said.

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Minimum tillage also reduces land disturbance, therefore, encouraging microbial activities which refine the soil texture. Active micro-organisms in the soil break down organic matter, converting it into nutrients ready for absorption by crops. 

Decaying plants are rich in phosphate and potassium nutrients.

Maize stalks are some of the richest mulching materials with a possibility of returning up to 60 per cent of the total nutrient value after decaying.

Good microorganisms

More other organisms like earthworms in the soil boost air circulation besides breaking hard particles into simple components. Regular tillage exposes them onto harsh conditions especially direct sunlight which may kill them.

Practicing conservation agriculture with time reduces soil demand for replenishment of nutrients with chemical fertilisers in planting and top dressing, Mutemi, who is attached to Machakos County Department of Agriculture said.

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According to the Kenya Seed Company, a farmer requires 120kg of double ammonium phosphate (DAP) for two and half acres (one hectare) of maize.

In one acre, a farmer needs 48kg of DAP during planting while 100kg of nitrogenous fertilisers like NPK are required for top dressing.

A farmer saves between Sh1,700 (on subsidy) and Sh2,300 that was to be spent on buying 50kg fertiliser.

No weeds

Mulching in the maize field smothers weeds. Weeding of one acre requires at least Sh2,000 per a round. Two weeding rounds require double the amount, the officer said.

As the mulch is also rotting, it adds more organic matter to the soil, which binds the particles.  

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For regions where farmers require irrigation, mulch and cover crops help conserve water moisture by reducing direct heating.

Regular tillage increases soil erosion due to lose soil. This leads to draining of top nutrient-rich soil, leaving a hard pan, Mutemi said.

Intercropping with leguminous crops like beans abs clovers helps in nitrogen fixation.

Nutrient gain

The soil gets nitrogen from the legumes while phosphorus and potassium come from the dead decaying matter.

For two tillage rounds, a farmers saves Sh6,000 on the lowest side. Two weeding rounds save about Sh4,000. On the three 50kg fertiliser required for planting and top dressing, the farmer saves about Sh5,100.

With the prices of maize fluctuating to lows of Sh1,600 per 90kg bag, saving of the cost of production reduces losses even when the market is poor.

PHOTO: Kenya Seed Company agronomist Njuguna Mwaniki at a demonstration farm in Machakos County show ground on July 6,2016. Mulching can be seen covering the soil from direct sunlight. Conservation agriculture can save farmers more than Sh10,000 for one acre per season. PHOTO BY LABAN ROBERT.