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Monday, 24 August 2015

Enjoying good returns from agricultural enterprises

By Bob Aston
The year 2008 marked a great turning point for Mr. Charles Boit. He quit his job as a Business Development Manager with Unilever Tea East Africa to manage his parent’s farm. The allure to return home and oversee the family agricultural enterprises was too strong and he finally had to accept that agriculture was his calling.
Mr. Boit now the Group Managing Director of Samsaraline Co. Ltd, Kapsuswa Farm, SB. Tea Estate Group, and Ratinwet Farm grew in a family whose farming enterprises included cereal farming, dairy, and tea production.
On August 14, 2015, he hosted a group of 35 farmers drawn from various Maize value chain groups in Laikipia County at Kapsuswa Farm (Land of Grass). The 1,500 acres maize farm located at Sugoi area of Uasin Gishu County is approximately 22 kilometres from Eldoret town. The Agricultural Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP)-Laikipia supported the farmers visit.
The farmers at one of the maize fields

Mr. Boit noted that maize production increased from an average of 15 bags to 30 bags an acre once he started managing the farm.

“I had learned a lot at the farm while growing up. I always had a passion for farming and I knew that one day I would return back to do what I enjoy,” said Mr. Boit.
He said that they are using minimum tillage over the traditional plough-based farming system.  The soil conservation system ensures minimum soil disturbance. Soon they will move to zero tillage.
“The system does not turn the soil over and ensures improved soil structure and less risk of damage of machinery. We are also witnessing reduced soil erosion and runoff,” said Mr. Boit.
He holds an MSc degree in Biochemical Engineering from the University College London and a BSc, Pharmacology, from the Kings College London.
Land preparation and planting
He said that they have managed to improve the PH of the soil from 5.0 to 5.6 through use of lime. The acidic soil used to reduce the productivity of the farm by stunting root growth and inhibiting plant development.
Lime has helped to boost the nutrients in the soil. A tractor pulled lime spreader with two rotating disks does distribution of lime in the farm. After applying lime, they move to harrowing. This breaks up the soil surface to help prepare the soil seedbed for planting.
Use of a chisel plough after the harrow ensures that hardpans are shattered and water infiltration is improved. The chisel plough helps in getting deep tillage. This aerates the soil while leaving crop residue at the top of the soil.
The farmers being shown how a six row planter works
Mr. Boit said that they have to do one more harrow before planting. He noted that despite the availability of various types of certified seeds they have been using PAN 691 from Pannar Seed Kenya Ltd, as it does not grow long like other seed varieties. This makes it easier to use combine harvester during harvesting.
They ensure that there is maximum yield production through optimized planting. The calibrated 6-row planter ensures factoring in of agronomic principles. With an unconventional spacing of 10 cm -20 cm between seedlings, an acre of land usually takes as much as 3,000 seeds. This is deliberate, as some seeds will not germinate.
Mr. Boit noted that although their seed spacing is unconventional it works for them. He urged farmers to dry plant.
´Planting speed is critical. It is important to ensure that the speed of the planter is between 8-10km/h. Going slower ensures you plant faster and you take good care of your machine, “said Mr. Boit.
The maize is top dressed using UREA due to its high nitrogen content and as it has always given them higher returns. Top dressing machine ensures uniform application of UREA. Manual application of fertilizer is only through application of half a bag of Ammonium Sulfate per acre. Lumax is used both as a pre and post herbicide for controlling weeds.
Harvesting and value addition
Mr. Boit said that they usually harvest maize when the moisture content of maize is around 20.0 percent. Use of combine harvesters during harvesting has ensured that reaping, threshing, and winnowing is a single process. This has reduced harvesting cost and time.
The farmers at the Kapsuswa Farm warehouse
After harvesting, the grain tank is loaded into a tractor pulled trailer and transported to the 33,000 square feet warehouse.  A mechanical dryer then dries the maize to the required moisture content of 13.0 percent.
The warehouse can hold 100,000 bags of cereals. Last year the farm stored 20,000 bags of maize in the warehouse. Part of the produced maize is for making silage for dairy cows. The farm has five silage pits.
In order to reap the benefits of value addition, the farm has invested in a maize milling plant to allow it to mill its own maize flour. The plant will be operational once they receive the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) certification. They will be able to mill 24,000 kgs of maize flour per day
“The problem with most youths is that they expect to get good returns within a very short period. There are no shortcuts in farming, as you have to be patient. We got where we are now through hard work and it took a long time to accomplish what we have,” said Mr. Boit.
Despite the success enjoyed by the farm, things have not been always gone according to plan. Pests and diseases have always affected production. There is a time when they managed to harvest only 35 bags of maize in the whole farm.
Maize is widely considered as a staple food in Kenya. Records indicate that an average Kenyan consumes 98 kilograms of maize per year. Despite various challenges that the sector faces, most farmers do not shy away from investing in maize production.
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