Making gold mines of dry season farming
Fresh dry season farm products do command premium prices for various agricultural products. This is so in a free economy where forces of demand and supply play dominant roles in determining prices of products.
The law of supply and demand, according to Investopedia, is a theory that explains the interaction between the supply of a resource and the demand for that resource. The theory defines the effect that the availability of a particular product and the demand for that product has on its price. Generally, low supply and high demand for a particular product, say fresh corn, increase the price. In contrast, the greater the supply and the lower the demand, the price tends to fall.
The rain-fed agriculture provides a platform for all farmers to produce in abundance. This makes the farm products available almost at the same time, creating excessive supply over average demand, and hence forcing prices down. But dry season farming attracts real agricultural business individuals who understand the important role of times and seasons in product price determination, and hence better opportunities provided in the dry season to make ‘abnormal’ profits.
The capital outlay, the time and labour requirements differentiate these farmers from opportunistic farmers. They commit adequate resources and diligent labour to dry season farming, and they do have bountiful rewards for their efforts and investments.
Fresh corns, vegetables, fruits and general agricultural products are usually scarce in the dry seasons, presenting unusual opportunities for business farmers to create a stream of income for about six to seven months (November to May).
What to plant in dry seasons
Large-scale dry season farming is possible and economical where there are functional irrigation facilities. The northern Nigeria still boasts of some viable irrigation facilities, but the scanty ones in the south are dysfunctional. Where they exist and in good shape, wheat, rice, watermelon and tomato are cultivated in commercial quantities, and farmers do smile to the bank.
Where the public irrigation facilities are not available for large-scale commercial production, small-scale cultivation of vegetables, including Lagos spinach, scent leaves (Ocimu gratissimum, efinrin), jute leaves (Corchorus olitorius, ewedu), (soko, celosia argentea) salad and spring onions can be done either in upland or valleys close to streams.
Nurseries are created, where seeds are allowed to germinate for about 15 days. The seedlings are transplanted into the growing beds furnished with poultry or swine manures very early in the morning or evening, planting each 20-25 centimetres apart on the same row, while maintaining the same space in-between two rows.There are standard groceries off-taking some of the products, especially if the vegetables are exotic. Shoprite outlets across the country, Foodco in Ibadan, Oyo State and other groceries are in off-takers of some of these products.
Growing vegetables the traditional way
The traditional tools of low-key dry season vegetable production include wetting cans to wet the farm about three to four times daily; hoes for preparing nursery and growing beds; shovels and gloves.These are rudimentary and labour-intensive tools suitable for backyard and micro-scale vegetable production. They, nevertheless, are still being used by thousands of farmers in Nigeria and other African countries.
Fresh vegetables in urban and rural areas are produced using these tools, and despite the ineffectiveness of these tools, the farmers feed the populace with them.It must, however, be pointed out that productivity is extremely low, and their incomes are grossly inadequate if juxtaposed with their labour.
The Executive Director of the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan, Dr Abayomi Olaniyan, said farmers could use valleys, where water could be fetched from streams to irrigate the vegetables. This, he said, would be easier and more water-efficient than cultivating vegetables on the upland in the dry seasons. He added that those who could afford irrigation would make real commercial sense.
Growing vegetables the modern way
Modern ways of doing dry season farming are more sophisticated, machine-intensive and efficient. They include the use of tractors for plowing and harrowing for bed preparation, boom spraying, sprinkler, gravity surface and centre pivot irrigation facilities.
The modern technologies require a larger source of water such as dams and river inlets. Industrial boreholes can equally serve the purpose.
The ultramodern way
The high-tech dry season farming utilises greenhouses, drip irrigation and fertigation, with reduced pesticides. Greenhouses are water-proof but solar netted structures that produce regulated conditions for vegetable cultivation.In fertigation systems, soluble fertiliser, other essential plant micronutrients and insecticides are mixed with water at intervals for growth enhancement and crop protection.
Green peppers, sweet melons, cucumber and many other vegetables are grown in greenhouses. They are used with drip irrigation facilities and vegetables grown in them require minimum pesticides because the nets in the greenhouses protect from pests. Drip irrigation can also be used in the open farmland. The holes are perforated at the calibrated spacing and water drops into the base of each plant. This is the most efficient use of water for agricultural purposes if juxtaposed with flood, boom or sprinkler irrigation systems.
A Brands and Marketing Manager at Dizengoff West Africa, Nigeria’s office, Mr Humphrey Otalor, said various kinds of vegetables could be planted in a greenhouse. “You can plant all kinds of vegetables but it is better to take advantage of what is not planted off rainy seasons. For example, if everybody is growing tomato, if I am a greenhouse farmer, I will grow pepper, because a few people are growing it.
“Farmers can grow bell peppers, sweet melons, spicy peppers, cucumber, and with the drip irrigation on the open field, you can grow watermelons,” he explained. Otalor said the small-scale the greenhouse occupies a space of 8m X 24m and it is sold at N1.7 million. It includes the greenhouse, the irrigation kits, seeds, bags of soluble ferterliser, a sprayer and installation to enable a farmer to start production immediately. This, however, does not include the source of water, for a farmer should dig a well or borehole as a source of regular supply of water.”
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