The smallholder farmers play an immense role in contributing to the attainment of growth targets in the agricultural sector. The presidential rural horticulture scheme, which will see 35000 village garden commissioned nationwide, demonstrates the power of inclusive participation as a way of improving productivity and profitability.
Vegetable production is a branch of horticulture. Examples of vegetables include crops in the Solanaceous family (potatoes, tomatoes, pepper, chillies and eggplant), Brassica family (cabbage, covo, tsunga, rape), Allium family (onions and garlic), Cucurbit family (cucumbers, butternuts, baby marrow, watermelon and pumpkins) and Apiaceae (carrots).
The farmer can harvest and generate sales early as compared to field crops such as maize and tobacco. Moreover, horticultural crops allow optimisation of land use and the farmer can benefit from the lucrative returns.
When looking at the end game horticultural crops have a good return per dollar invested which can improve the standards of living of the farmer. As we get into winter, production on the farm does not stop as some vegetables are tolerant to frost when they are planted on open field.
As with all other businesses one can venture into there is always an investment to be made in farming. Farming as a business will require the farmer to make an investment on irrigation.
All crops grown outside the rainy season require irrigation. Winter crops have a high requirement for water as compared to summer crops.
On the other hand, high yields have to begin with good soil conditioning. There is a strong recommendation for farmers to carry out soil tests so that they can correct acidity or alkalinity of the soil and any nutrient deficiencies present.
When the farmer takes good care of the soil the soil reciprocates by taking care of the farmer by producing a bumper harvest.
Crop nutrition will require the farmer to understand the crop requirements to produce yield. When it comes to the use of fertilisers horticultural crops have different requirement as compared to field crops. The traditional popular Maize fert (7:14:7) does not contain micronutrients such as boron and is made from a chlorine source.
The farmer has the option of using basal fertilisers such Vegetable Blend (9:24:20). Tobacco planting fert (5:15:12), Seedbedfert (7:21:8), Tobacco blend (6:28:23) and Tobacco fert (6:24:20). Most soils in Zimbabwe are deficient of zinc which is required by crops. Farmers can use Vegetable Blend which contains micronutrients such as zinc and boron.
In addition to the inorganic fertiliser sources, farmers can supplement with organic manure which will contribute to a good soil health status.
Soil conditioners such as Gypsum contain calcium and sulphur. Gypsum improves the soil structure, enhances water use efficiency and reduces runoff, erosion and soil crusting.
Foliar fertilisers such as Quick Start, Quick Grow and ZFC Foliar 15 can be applied on the leaves to provide nutrients that enhance quality and shelf life. Top dressing fertilisers such as Ammonium Nitrate, Sulphate of Potash, Potassium Nitrate and Potato Supertop can be applied to promote crop growth and yield.
Protecting the investment from pests and adopting an Integrated Pest Management Programme (IPM) is crucial. Integrated Pest Management will include the use of biological, cultural, chemical, physical control measures to control pests.
When using fungicides and insecticides the farmer is recommended to rotate chemicals of different modes of action to avoid resistance build up. Resistance occurs when the fungicide or insecticide becomes ineffective to control pests. For example pests such as red spider mite the farmer can rotate Abamectin, Malathion, Dimethoate and Spike Extra.
When it comes to disease control farmers with the assistance of Agronomists can design a spraying programme including preventative and curative fungicides. Examples of preventative fungicides include Antracol, Bravo, Copper oxychloride, Mancozeb. Examples of curative fungicides include Difenoconazole, Deletor and Metalman.
Nowadays, production of horticultural crops has moved from rural confines to more commercial ventures.
Quality includes distinctive characteristic such as size, visual attractiveness, flavour, health benefits, shelf life and suitability for processing.
The main issue with horticultural produce lies in the total quality assurance of the marketed surplus.
Vegetables that have good quality make it easier when the farmers are marketing their products. Vegetables that have a longer shelf life will benefit everyone along the value chain including the consumers.
This article was written by Murimisi Justice Chembela. Word from the market is a column produced by the Agricultural Marketing Authority. Feedback firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com