When should I stop planting Soybeans?

Soybean is a legume crop grown in many parts of Zambia. It is used for extraction of oil used for cooking as well as making stock feed from the cake that remains. For a very long time, Zambia has been a net exporter of soybeans in the region in the form of cake and animal feed. In the last production season, soybean just like many other crops did not perform well due to erratic rains received. This has resulted in having a shortage of both seed on the market as well as the grain for commercial use. Many of the seed companies have run out of seed just like what happened in 2015. Soybean plant is a self-pollinated plant; implying that insects play a lesser role in pollination of the crop. It is estimated that one per cent of soybean is cross-pollinated through insects.

This shortage of soybean seed on the market has got many implications on the supply of the commodity next marketing season. This indirectly implies that there will be a shortage of the commodity on the market because farmers don’t have enough planting material. The price of the commodity will be fetching high prices and from the top of my head, I can easily guess that the price will not be any lower than K5 per kilo or K250 per bag. Since 2011, Zambia has been a net exporter of soybean products to the region. Some farmers recycle soybean seed, at least for one season. However, this is not a good thing to do because not only does the yield of the subsequent crop go down, but it also has a tendency of promoting disease proliferation. The crop is one amongst many which is affected by so many diseases, especially fungal. Keeping your own seed for planting can promote build up of diseases on your farm and many of these diseases overwinters on some weeds as well as spores build up in the soil.

In case you don’t have access to seed material from seed companies but managed to keep some seed which you want to plant, what should you do? The first thing is to subject your ‘seed’ to germination tests before you plant it. Take about ten seeds and plant them in a row and replicate this, then count how many seeds in a row would have germinated. For your grain to qualify to be planted as seed, you should have at least eight seeds out of the ten in each replicated row germinating. Then your grain is fit to be planted. However, this is not the only thing you should do; your seed could just have so many different types of spores for diseases. The seed need to be treated with fungicides. There are specialised fungicides that are used for seed treatment to kill spores on the seed as well as prevent early disease on the seedlings such as Rhizoctonia. It is also advisable to treat the seed with an insecticide that will prevent soil borne pests such as cutworms and white grubs which can damage the seedling early in the growing process. Some of the products on the market you can use to treat the seed for pests is Fastac 10EC.

The seed is still not yet ready for planting; with legumes, there are special products on the markets called inoculants, which you treat your seed to help with nitrogen fixation. Inoculants are a necessity that you must treat your seed if you want to benefit from higher yields. Soybean plants are in two types; there is what is called the indeterminate plants as well as the determinate plants. The difference is that the indeterminate varieties keep growing vegetatively even after starting to flower. The determinate varieties stop to grow vegetatively after starting to flower. This implies that under normal circumstances, the indeterminate varieties must be higher yielding than the determinate. However, yield is not dependent on this alone but other factors such as genetic potential besides others. The indeterminate varieties normally need more time to reach maturity; that is, they are late maturing varieties. This means they need to be planted early in the season. The planting season for the soybeans in our country starts from mid-November until around the third week of December if we have a normal rain season (November to April). However, of late, due to climate change, the rains are effectively starting in the first week of December and ending in March. This means that the planting window for the late maturing varieties, if you don’t have irrigation, have been shortened. You can plant them from 30 November to mid-December. This means that farmers still have time to plant soybeans as this is only the tenth day in December. The early maturing varieties can be planted up to the last week of December while the farmers found in region three can plant up to tenth day in January. Let us plant so much soybean so that we can make money next year. Mind you Zimbabwe will be too drier than Zambia and they will need more soybeans next year. Please get more information about soybean growing in our book called ‘A Guide to Agribusiness in Zambia: Untapped Opportunities’ which you can buy online on Amazon and other book stores. See you in May as we heard to the banks to cash our cheques.
The author is the Agribusiness Consultant, ftembo2001@gmail.com

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