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How to maximise yield in maize cultivation

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Maize plantation

Maize production can fetch a farmer or farming household some reasonable income. Youths with little resources thinking of agriculture have a soft landing in maize cultivation, because it requires minimum capital, low risk of exposure, and has a great propensity for relatively higher return on investment compared to other crops.

Several uses of maize make it a hotcake not only in Nigeria but also worldwide. It has great alternative uses either for humans or animals. Industrial utilisation for ethanol, like cassava, is also emerging in the Nigerian industrial terrains.

Maize is comsumed fresh by humans either by boiling or roasting, and greater percentage of national maize production between April and July each year is actually consumed directly, especially in the forest ecology region where the first season maize is cultivated within that time frame. Animal feeds production requires maize as the main energy source.

Maize production has been made easier through mechanisation. Mechanisation means using modern tools in land preparation, planting, weed management, harvesting and processing. However, it requires some technical know-hows if maximum yield per hectare is to be achieved.

Timing
Timing is very crucial in planting maize because it is a water-loving crop. It requires regular normal rainfalls. Hence, timing matters in yield expectations. In a management manual made available to the Guardian newspaper by the Country Director of Pioneer Seeds, Mr Olumide Ibikunle, the first planting season begins in March or April in the forest ecology, depending on whether rainfall is early or delayed, and the second planting season starts from late June to August. In Nigeria, the southwest, south-south and south-east geo-political zones are included in this ecological zone. In the savannah or semi-arid regions of the north, planting season that guarantees bumper harvest is around June, except for irrigation facilities.

Land preparation and planting
Maize planting requires adequate land preparation, including land clearing, plowing, harrowing and ridging. This breaks the soil texture, allows room for enough oxygen, and enhances manure and fertiliser application and utilisation. Tractor hiring services are now available with about N30,000 for both plowing and ridging or harrowing, as the farmer requires. Planting is done manually or mechanically. Semi-mechanical planters are also available with fertiliser hovers to dispense fertiliser with maize seeds.

Plant population
According to Ibikunle, the plant population determines profitability, and that no fewer than 20,000 kernels of maize should be planted on one acre, or approximately 52,000 stands on maize should be planted on one hectare of land. Old farmers did use one metre by one metre spacing on the same row and between ridges. Experts, however, said this reduces the harvest, gives space for weed infestation and reduces the potential productivity and profit per hectare.

Ibikunle recommends 75cm spacing (about three feet) in-between rows and 25cm spacing on the same row. This way, he said, farmers would get adequate harvest and make profit, provided other necessary actions are taken.
Weed, pest management and fertiliser application.

Experts recommend application of pre-emergence herbicides immediately after land preparation and planting. Pre-emergence herbicides prevent weed seeds from growing on the maize farm for a reasonable number of weeks. Post-emergence herbicides can also be applied to kill young weeds after eight weeks of planting. Pesticides are also used for crop protection if the need arises. In fact, weed infestations reduce production of maize by 30%. Fertiliser is applied at planting or four weeks after planting, and eight weeks after planting. If organic fertiliser is unaffordable, compost poultry or pig manure should be applied two weeks before plowing and harrowing of the farmland. Application of no fewer than eight bags of fertiliser on one hectare of farmland is recommended for a bumper harvest.

Grain planters with fertiliser hovers

Improved seed variety
Former Director of the National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC), Mr Anthony Olatokun, while pointing out success factors in maize farming, said farmers should not mind the cost of quality seeds, for this would give them maximum yields of between five and six metric tonnes per hectares, while grains planted as seeds would give an average yield of two tonnes per hectare. Maize seeds and grains are not the same and would not give the same results, but most farmers plant grains as seeds, he said.

52,000 cobs of maize could be harvested on one hectare of land, and the average price at the farm gate per cob is N10. The minimum amount realizable from a well cultivated hectare of land is N520,000.

Production cost includes about N45,000 for land preparation and planting; N15,000 for seeds; N15,000 for planting; N10,000 for herbicides; N40,000 for fertiliser and N30,000 for other expenses. A farmer may go home with almost N400,000 profit margin or more in three months, all things being equal.

However, cutting corners will prevent good yields, and delayed actions can drastically reduce productivity.
In a nutshell, Professor Samuel Adelowo Olakojo, a maize breeder at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IAR&T), Ibadan, an affiliate of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), summarised the steps to successful maize farming in seven points.

According to him, choosing rich farmland that requires minimum use of organic fertiliser; correct plant population of between 53,000 and 55,000 per hectare; NPK fertilizer application at four weeks and urea fertilizer application at eight weeks; prevention of army warm infestation by applying insecticide; good maize seeds with traceable sources; adequate weed control and good land preparation are.
They all guarantee profitable maize harvest if natural disasters, shortage of rainfall and cattle invasion are out of the equation.


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