Many soybean farmers especially the small-scale are smiling because of the favourable commodity prices for soybeans. The average prices of soybeans per kilo is K11 or K550 per bag or $500 per metric tonne. This has been one of the best prices that we have for this commodity in a long time. However, like we always comment that once we smoothen the commodity marketing infrastructure, we will promote the production of those particular crops. This price surge will encourage a lot of farmers to grow more soybean the coming season. Some farmers are already asking where they can buy soybean. A lot of information on how to grow soybean has been shared on this platform since 2011 and repeated several times, however, there is no harm in repeating it for the tenth time. The Bemba’s say umupama pamo utule ingoma (striking the drum at the same spot will break it).
The first risk that many farmers will be exposed to this season is that they will plant soybean which will be attacked by diseases and pests. I am not wishing any farmer bad but from experience, most of the land available for planting will be put to soybean production. Many farmers will forget the basics of farming by not practicing crop rotation. When we do not practice this important attribute of sustainable farming, our crops are affected by increased possibilities of diseases and pests. Soybean is attacked by such diseases as damping off at seed germinating stage. This is a disease that causes the germinating seed to dieback. When you don’t practice crop rotation, you risk increasing the pathogen that causes this disease especially that soybean seed is not treated at source with crop protection products like we do with maize seed. The products for treating soybean are there but because of the nature of the seed, many farmers prefer treating their seed just before planting. The outbreaks of other diseases like rust, powdery and downy mildews, leaf blotch, sclerotinia and frog eye will be so wide spread. Sclerotinia is a relatively new disease in Zambia which is caused by a plant pathogenic fungus which is sometimes called as cottony rot; it belongs to the Ascomycetes. This can have a negative impact on the yield and make your enterprise unprofitable. What farmers need to do is that as they sell their produce they need to slowly start stocking some of the key inputs that are needed for effective production of soybeans. It is not only seed and fertilisers but farmers should always use inoculants and herbicides in their production regimes.
The other thing that I am worried about with soybean production this season is that due to the demand for the seed, many farmers will dare to recycle the grain they harvested this year. Soybean just like groundnuts are self-pollinated plants and they can easily be recycled. However, as agronomists we discourage the recycling of seed because of many reasons. The first one being that seed for planting should be kept under optimal environmental conditions. Seed should not be kept in direct sunlight during storage; this will greatly affect its viability to germinate. It should also not be exposed to damp conditions. Very few farmers including commercial farmers follow this rule and it is the reason that we encourage farmers to procure fresh seed from seed companies every year. Another point to note is that soybean is a seed that easily germinates with a bit of water. In the last season, towards the end we received heavy rains while we were harvesting our soybean. The challenge with that moisture is that it could have started the process of germination of the soybean. The germination process could have stopped as soon as it had started because subsequent days after those last rains where sunny and this killed the germinating plumule. You would not seed this because it happened inside the seed. If you dare planted the seed that had started the process of germination, it will not germinate because the germinating part id dead. The implications will be that you will have poor germination which will lead to lower yields. You will agree with me that profitability in farming is a function of productivity. Check for similar articles on our facebook page called, The Agribusiness Focus (#ft2014af) follow and like it or get a copy of the book Agribusiness in Zambia: Untapped Opportunities.
The author is the Agribusiness Development Consultant; firstname.lastname@example.org