Cash in big with Green mealies this winter

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John Bhasera

Gocha/green mealies production is one venture with a very lucrative Return On Investment (ROI), which farmers can consider in irrigation schemes, A2, A1, large and small scale farming sectors, this winter. Apart from enhancing liquidity flow on the farm, green mealies can also help broaden streams of income with positive implications on the topline (incomes per year) for the farming enterprise.

Gocha mealies as a venture, follows a basic gross margin principle that if you invest a dollar you can get at least two and half fold return, assuming best agronomic practices are religiously adopted. Normally the cost of production for gocha mealie averages up to $1,400, per hectare after incorporating all variable costs e.g. fertilisers, irrigation costs, electricity, labour, to mention just the major variable cost drivers.

If everything is done optimally, and farmers adopt GAPs (Good Agronomic Practices) as we strongly recommend, a minimum of 3,500 dozens of mealies per hectare can be harvested, with each dozen fetching prices ranging from $1.20 to $2.50. It means in monetary terms, a farmer can rake in a minimum of $4,200 and up to $8,750 after a period of at most 4 months on a per hectare basis. This income can be used for wages, farm equipment maintenance, and summer cropping preparations among other day to day petty cash needs on the farm. This creates cash flow autarky (self-sufficiency) and spread on the farms. It is a significant income stream for the farm especially if volumes are significantly high enough.

Imagine some A2 farmers in Mashonaland West, Central, East, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Matebeleland who can go as much as 20ha of gocha mealies (some even up to 40ha), A1 farmers doing 3-5ha, and irrigation scheme farmers doing 0.5ha! …..Imagine the returns!

This is lucrative and rewarding! – isn’t it? It is really a big deal especially when everything is done optimally from varietal choice & preparation right up to harvesting and marketing. Ultimately the key is to produce long, fat, attractive and sellable cobs. This article gives some agronomic considerations and tips for green mealies production as enunciated by the GAPs principle. The key tenet for green mealies production is growing appropriate hybrids under good management to obtain first grade green mealie cobs which can earn premium prices on the market. Generally we recommend staggering of gocha mealie plantings to stretch the selling window.

What is the optimum planting time?

Planting window is a very critical consideration when producing gocha mealie as farmers need to consider frost avoidance as it can “burn” the crop (at the early stages) and cause floral sterility and lead to unsellable small cobs. We recommend farmers to plant after frost occurrence! Generally the optimum sowing time is after the last week of July in the Highveld areas. In the Lowveld, where frost seldomly occurs, farmers can capitalise and plant at anytime and fetch higher prices.

How important is land preparation?

We recommend soils should be prepared to a fine tilth to ensure good germination & emergence, and also for moisture conversation. Maize prefers well prepared seedbed with a  depth of 25-30cm. To achieve this, farmers need to follow the conventional tillage procedure of ploughing, discing and rolling. However we also recommend farmers to follow the conservational tillage techniques also known as zero or minimum tillage as another option.

Can one plant any hybrid?

The desired traits are a combination of sweet taste, long shelf life, medium dry down and large (long & fat) and attracive cobs. Complementary traits are high grain yield potential, large kernel size and grain colour (yellow or white), good popping and roasting ability. Leading varieties on the gocha mealie market are Seed Co’s SC727 and SC719-late white hybrids (popularly dubbed Cassa Banana on the green mealie market), SC608 a yellow medium maturing hybrid, with a difference (dubbed Fire Cracker on the green mealie market). SC637 (famously called Torai Mari) and SC533 are the other options in the medium and early white maturity groups. SC403 is generally favoured for its sizable cob, deep white kernels and a good shelf life. This short season hybrid has some great tolerance & resistance to maize streak virus (MSV). It also offers farmers great options for a good green mealie cropping turnover per year.

Varietal choice is a key market consideration, as farmers risk getting ‘stuck’ with dozens of gocha mealies if they use other varieties than the above that are not preferred on the market.

What is the optimum plant population for green maize?

Planting can be done by machinery or hand. We recommend farmers to calibrate their planters to achieve the optimum spacing for large (fat and long), attractive cobs. We recommend a spacing of 90cm inter-row and 23-27cm & intra-row to achieve a population of up to 48 000 plants per ha. Under good management 95% of the total population should fetch the premium grade for fresh maize market while the 5% can be dried for grain or other use. On a per hectare basis the target harvestable population should be at least 3500 dozens. The secrete ploy is to strike a health balance between cob size and the number of harvestable cobs per unit area. This balance gives the difference that matters in green mealie production.

Always plant in fertile soil

Firstly a farmer MUST sample soils for pH and fertility analysis. If there are any imbalances in the soil pH and fertility, they must be corrected promptly e.g low pH is corrected by liming. Use of appropriate liming agents (dolomitic or calcitic lime) is recommended as this enhances fertiliser use efficiency. The optimum pH for maize is 5.5-6.5 on a Calcium Chloride scale.

Secondly application of fertilisers is heavily recommended if we are targeting to get good crop establishment and marketable cobs. The principle is to apply the right quantities of the right type of fertiliser at the right time and place. Seed Co recommends that fertilisation management should be tailored from the soil analysis recommendations.

However, the general recommendation for fertilisers is; Compound D {7:14:7} basal dressing (400kg/ha) at planting and top dressing (350-400kg/ha) at 4 weeks after emergence using Ammonium Nitrate or Urea. These are only guides as we strongly recommend that fertiliser regimes should be tailored according to soil analysis results and targeted yields. Top dressing can be applied by applicators, hand or the chola method (empty bag with a hole and a pipe protruding). Farmers are also recommended to adopt high analysis blends as basal options. Split applications of top dressing fertilisers can be recommended in loose soils (with clay content of less than 20%) i.e. sandy and sand loamy soils.

Fertilizer application is essential for plant root development, leaf surface area expansion, cob development and filling, and ultimately productivity.

NB: All fertility management practices must be based on proper full soil analysis recommendations by approved laboratories. Machine, fertiliser applicators (and hand/chola) calibrations are key for optimum crop establishment, proper use of chemicals and fertilisers and attaining budgeted yield levels

Contact Seed Co Agronomy Services, Agritex or equipment companies for assistance on calibrations of various farming implements.

Moisture management has to be spot on!

This is a very crucial aspect in winter green mealie production. Irrigate to field capacity after planting and after day 5-7, follow through with enough to break the crust for good crop emergence. Remember good crop emergence and establishment is key for good stand count and harvestable cobs. It’s a game of numbers (of cobs/dozens/ha)! Irrigation scheduling should be based on soil type, rate of evaporation and crop stage. Generally a 25-30mm net is enough on a 5-10 days irrigation cycle. Up to 650mm of well scheduled irrigation is required for a good green mealie crop.

Common enemies: Disease, pest and weed control

The most important disease for winter green mealie is Maize Streak Virus (MSV) spread by a leaf hopper vector, (Cicadulina Mbila). Seed Co recommends farmers to dress seed with Imidachloprid (Gaucho, Cruzer & Poncho) at pre-planting. Imidachloprid is a systemic insecticide that acts as an insect neurotoxin with no toxicity to humans and very low eco and phytotoxicity. On the other hand, cut worms are a catastrophe especially after crop emergence. We recommend pesticide sprays of Lambda or Karate after emergence for the control of the catastrophic caterpillars.

Of late, Fall Armyworm is another important pest which can cause significant economic damage to the green mealie crop if left uncontrolled. We recommend at least 2 sprays of Emamectin Benzoate and other registered pesticides to minimise damage.

Seed Co strongly recommends the use of pre & post-emergence herbicides to ensure weed free fields in the early growth stages of the crop. For instance in maize the field must be weed-free for the first 10-12 weeks of the crop cycle to ensure undisturbed and efficient water and nutrient uptake by the maize crop. It is during the first 2-10 weeks after crop emergence when the crop feeds heavily from the supplied nutrition and hence should not be interrupted by competition from weeds.

NB: Consult Agrochemical companies for more information on chemicals. Always read chemical labels carefully, use safe practices and adequate protective gear during chemical application.

What are the harvesting and marketing tips?

Maize grown for green mealies should be harvested well before reaching physiological maturity. Preference with regards to the optimum harvesting window varies from market to market. Generically early dough stage (just after milk stage) is regarded as the best time for harvesting green mealies, which is about 3 weeks after flowering depending on variety. It is prudent to do market research 3 or 4 weeks before the intended harvest time. Customers in the market include, retailers, fresh produce markets like Misika in major cities and towns, and individuals…

John Basera is Agronomy and Extension Services Manager at Seed Co. Contact: +263 772 413 184/john.basera@seedcogroup.com/www.seedcogroup.com/zw or twitter: @basera_john or @SeedCo2