Improving Farming Profitability Through Variety Selection

BY TAWANDA MTHINTWA HOVE

The current meteorological department season forecast has stimulated lots of enthusiasm amongst farmers. With a forecast of normal to above normal rainfall, it’s quite natural for optimism to be high. However, if farmers are set to obtain a favorable return from farming, then appropriate variety selection is of paramount essence. Farming is a business and should be treated as such. Good variety selection is not only a good agricultural practice but essentially a business decision if you are farming commercially. Varieties simply put, are seed types of the same crop e.g. maize, whose genetic makeup causes them to manifest performance traits different from the peers all within the same crop type seed companies have varieties which fall into generally three categories;

  • early maturity,
  • medium maturity
  • and late maturity.

Usually the longer the period to maturity, the greater the yield. By the same token, the longer the period to maturity the more a farmer must be adequately resourced from an input investment agronomic management perspective. What are the key factors to consider when purchasing seed varieties?

Market targeted – It is very important to first have a thorough understanding of the market you are targeting. Markets do not only vary from domestic and export, but also vary within the same geographic domain. For example, horticultural farmers farming butternuts will know that the size, shape, color, and the taste of the crop matters to the market. This is due to the fact that, market off takers buy for different reasons and have varying consumption behaviors. For the export market, the small to medium sized sweeter varieties will sell better in the export market as compared to the big squashy varieties, which are more popular in the Zimbabwe market. The big and well fleshed varieties even with a flat taste will sell more with processors as that is what gives them optimum return. Such market preference must always be taken into consideration before one buys a variety if they are to realize the returns they intend.

Climatic requirements -The climatic requirements are the second most important farming consideration a farmer should make. Failure to select a variety which appropriately matches your ecological zone could result into a disastrous farming season. For example, it is not wise to plant late maturity varieties such as Seedco’s 7 series maize varieties if you are located in region 3 and 4 and have no irrigation to supplement for moisture supply. Such late maturity varieties have tremendous genetic potential but by the same vein require a good constant moisture supply of up to 700mm availed within the right intervals. As a rule of thumb, farmers should not only consider the upcoming meteorological department’s forecast for the season, but go further and put it into the context of their location. A normal to above normal rainfall season in Mberengwa is still insufficient to cater for these high yielding late maturity varieties.

Financial working capital Inputs such as fertilizers, crop chemicals, and labor may vary amongst varieties of the same type. Late maturity varieties will need high nutrient (fertilizer) supply regimes in order to unlock the full genetic potential. For maize, 300kg of basal fertilizer is sufficient for early maturity varieties however, for late maturity varieties one will require no less than 500kg. Such variations mean that at scale (large farming area), the input investment cost will significantly vary. Farmers should only select varieties which they have adequate financial resources to cater for.

Uniformity and shelf life – Post harvest issues are more often than not forgotten as key business considerations in a farming enterprise. Selecting a variety with a uniform output form and appropriate shelf life is important. Generally, during the early harvest period, markets are flooded because the crop is in abundance and naturally the prices are lower. Farmers who understand supply and demand dynamics tend to want to hold onto their crop for better prices when the crop is less abundant. Whilst this is good business logic, if the shelf life of the variety is short, this causes the farmer not to have too much time to hold on to his product and eventually forced to sell off his produce. Consequently, the shelf life more often has an impact on the bottom line (profit). A good example is the groundnut crop where such differences abound.

While there is no one single way of choosing varieties, it is important to at least consider the above. Farming for too long may not have been seen as a business in communal areas, the above considerations are certainly one way of getting farmers to earn a better return on investment. Tawanda Mthintwa Hove is an agricultural economic development practitioner and a PhD student with the university of free state.

Backlink – For more information on the 2020/21 farming season rainfall pattern and forecast please refer to ZiMunda Farming Newsletter issue 11.

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