Soya bean farming season preparations
By Innocent Sigwadi
Soya bean is an important crop in Zimbabwe. It is a critical ingredient in the production of cooking oil, and in the production of stock feeds for poultry, pigs and fish. Soya bean contains up to 20% oil content and up to 42% crude protein. It is a legume plant and is a good crop to grow in rotation with cereals such as wheat and maize.
The hectarage under soya bean has been very low in Zimbabwe, with only 71,290 metric tonnes produced in the 2020/21 season and an estimated 81,028 metric tonnes harvested in the 2021/22 season. The yields achieved have been low in the region of 0.8metric tonnes per hectare. As a result, Zimbabwe has been relying on imports of soya bean, cotton and sunflower seed, as well as crude oil which is then refined in the country. The national requirement for soya bean is 240,000 metric tonnes, which would require 120,000 hectares with a yield of 2 metric tonnes per hectare.
THE FACTORS TO CONSIDER WHEN PREPARING FOR THE SEASON:
Time of planting
Soya bean is a summer crop and requires a certain number of heat units for it to achieve the best yield levels, therefore it is important to plant on time. An early planning dates leads to a bigger plant, which has more internodes and which leads to a bigger harvest. More rapid growth leads to earlier closure of the canopy over the row, which facilitates weed control. The early closure of the canopy is also affected by the inter row spacing that the farmer uses. Therefore, the planting date is one of the most important factors in achieving a good yield in soya beans. Traditionally the accepted planting dates in Zimbabwe are 15 November to 15 December, but a farmer can choose to plant earlier, in the case where rainfall is expected early so as to avoid a situation where a large amount of rain is received early in the season which prevent the farmer from performing critical operation including planting and spraying. It is not recommended that the farmer plants later after mid-December as there will be less heat units available to the plant and the farmer will not achieve the best yield possible, regardless of performing other operations well.
Soil and fertility
Soil type is critical in soya bean production. The soya bean plant will do well in deep, well-drained soil that possess high water holding capacities and high fertility. Soya beans will not do well in very light sandy soils. The plant requires high levels of Potash (K), Phosphorus (P), Calcium (Ca) and Magnesium (Mg) and it is important to select a basal fertilizer which will provide sufficient amounts of these nutrients. Soya is a legume and fixes nitrogen in the soil, and it is important to use an inoculant at a rate of 100g sachet per 100kg of seed and to irrigate soon after planting. The basal fertiliser should contain sufficient Nitrogen content to sustain the plan for the first 6 weeks before nodulation occurs. The farmer can utilise compound L or soya blend fertilizers or even Compound D at a rate of 300kg/hectare. Farmers are recommended to take their soils for testing so that they can receive advise on what types of fertiliser to use and the application rates.
Irrigation is very important because it allows a farmer to time their planting and not to wait for the rain before they can plant. The soya plant requires sufficient moisture during flowering and pod filling therefore irrigation is critical. Extended dry spells during these growth stages will lead to the flowers aborting and therefore a reduction in yield.
The farmer needs to select the variety that will give them the best yield for their particular area. It is ideal to use varieties that are resistant to lodging where a combine harvester will be used and have a high tolerance to shattering. The variety should be resistant to diseases as this will reduce the cost of applying chemicals to control diseases.
Weed and pest control
The soya bean plant is very sensitive to weed competition; therefore, it is critically important to control weeds from planting. The farmer should make use of pre-emergent herbicides at planting as this will give the crop a head start over the weeds, and make use of post-emergent herbicides before the crop has developed a canopy over the rows. It is critical to ensure that the chemicals used are safe the crop, an also to ensure that there were no chemicals used on previous crops which have a harmful residual effect on the crop.
Farmers require financing to meet the requirements for soya bean production which include fuel, seed, fertilizers, agro-chemicals and working capital. Agricultural finance can be sourced directly from banks, through contract farming or through self-financing. Finance has to be available in a timely manner so that the farmer is able to prepare and plant on time. The finance should be affordable so that it allows the farmers to grow profitably. Banks in Zimbabwe have been supporting farmers and have partnered with the market to ensure that the farmer produces with a guaranteed market in place which is a very important factor in the business of farming.
A number of companies are registered with the Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) to contract farmers to produce soya beans. The contract farming arrangements allow farmers to access inputs and working capital at a reasonable cost and in a timely manner, while having access to a guaranteed market.
The farmer also has an option to self-finance their production if they have the means to do so. The benefit of this is that they will not incur the cost of borrowing money, but they still need to ensure that they will be able to sell their crop at a price that makes business sense.
Insurance is very important and is becoming more so especially with the issue of climate change. A number of companies are working in the sector and the farmer can select the best insurer who will also walk with the farmer through the season and provide extra services besides just insurance cover.
Soya bean has a high demand in Zimbabwe because the national requirement far exceeds the level production. As a result, a farmer who self-finances his crop can have a number of buyers to choose from. However, the farmer needs to note that soya beans is a strategic crop and therefore its buying and selling is controlled by the Government. The farmer will need to ensure that they market their crop in line with the legal requirements. The farmer may approach AMA and GMB for clarity.
Innocent Sigwadi is a trained agricultural economist and currently working with United Refineries Limited as an Agronomist in the Soya Bean Out-grower Alliance (SOBOA). He has worked for the Ministry of Agriculture and in the development sector in various roles including as a business development officer for Khula Sizwe Trust, as a local capacity builder as the Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV,) marketing officer for the livestock and forestry projects at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO). Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org, +263772170746, twitter: @soboazim