A crop production plan is the best way to maximise the use of your land and ensure a reliable supply of produce to your customers, advises farmer Mbali Nwoko of Green Terrace from her own experience.
An efficient way to start developing a good crop production plan is to map out your available farm space.
The best way to go about this exercise is to subdivide your farm into different blocks, of either half or one hectare each. Within these blocks, you can plan for different seasons and for different times of the month throughout the year.
Before the new season starts, you need to consider the following in detail:
1. Crop selection
Have conversations with your agronomist and seed representative about which varieties or cultivars you will be planting for that season, and which crops you are going to rotate with after the season has ended.
Choose seeds that represent your farm’s brand promise to its customers or clients. For example, if your farming philosophy is to use the “organic” approach, then open pollinated and or non-GMO seeds will be on your priority list.
If you are farming for commercial purposes and your objective is to ensure that your plants produce certain characteristics i.e., size, shape, weight and or colour, and your crops are disease resistant, then hybrid seeds will be your best option.
You will need to choose what is best for your farm and the clientele that you will be servicing.
2. Determine yield
When planning your crop, it’s also important to estimate what yield you are going to expect from your production. For example, if you are planting maize, how many tonnes per hectare are you expecting to harvest? If you are planting tomatoes in a tunnel, how many kilograms can a plant give you per cycle?
This information can be derived from the planning you will have done with your agronomist and seed representative. Yield estimation is important because it gives you an idea of the revenue you project to make in your business and how you will be able to pay for monthly operational expenses.
Farm revenue = Yield x Price
3. Plan for losses
A mistake farmers often make is that we often don’t account for losses at the start of the planting season. If your crop production plan requires you to plant 100 000 seeds or seedlings for example, my advice is to procure 110 000 seeds or seedlings.
The reason for this is that not every seed you put in the ground will germinate, not every seedling you plant will develop strong roots and survive its first few weeks of planting. There are several reasons as to why these things happen i.e., weather, date and time of planting, too much or too little irrigation, etc.
Therefore, when purchasing your seeds or seedlings, always buy a little bit more than what you need to protect yourself from such losses.
4. The market
Experienced farmers will tell you that before you put anything onto the ground, you need to have a market i.e., you need to know where your produce will be sold and for what price. Therefore, always start with the end in mind and work backwards, which will help you plan a lot better and ensure that you are planting enough (yield) for each customer and that the crop selection (including variety) meets the customer’s expectation.
When speaking to your customers, it’s not enough to simply have an agreement in place confirming that they will procure the produce at a certain price and just leave it there. You need to find out about the quantities that they will procure at different times of the month or days in the week.
This will help you plan your harvesting cycles much better and identify how many employees you will need on your farm on the day of your harvest. This is how you manage and control your expenses to ensure that you don’t find yourself in a situation where your fields or tunnels are ready for harvest, but your clients can only take a small quantity at a time.
5. Keep records
Considering all the above, it’s important to keep detailed records of everything that has to do with your crop production plan and record every single activity that occurs on your farm. That way you can use past experience to determine when particular crops thrive and what kind of yield to expect at different times of the year.
This will guide you when it comes to drawing up future plant and harvest schedules.
It may sound like a lot of work, but this approach will ensure you have a broader outlook in terms of how you plan to maintain a steady, quality crop supply to your market. By using these strategies, you will not only boost your crop yield, but also be in a better position to project expenses and income and maximise your profits.
This approach also keeps you in firm control when it comes to the scheduling on the farm, which avoids any nasty surprises such as finding yourself in a position where you’re unable to service your customers because you don’t have sufficient produce available.