Samuel Kadungure Farming Reporter —
WHEAT farmers are racing against time to harvest as the crop is now under serious threat from early rains expected to fall anytime. At great risk is the late planted cereal crop as those who planted early have already started harvesting.
Wheat is a quality-sensitive crop and very susceptible to rains when it matures. It quickly loses its glowing amber colour, which is a major grading factor. If the weather remains drenched for long, the crop could become animal feed. Agritex head for Manicaland Mr Godfrey Mamhare said harvesting was in progress, adding that farmers were mindful of early rains danger.
Mr Mamhare urged them to speed up their operations as it can rain anytime. The majority of the wheat is ripening and will not benefit from rain, but will instead be vulnerable to quality issues like sprouting or stained grain. Rain compromise the quality of wheat as it will start geminating in the fields.
Combine harvesters, despite being exceptionally large and heavy machines, will also have their ability to move around in the fields overwhelmed by too much rain. Worse, the support equipment tends to be less able to manage mud. The harvesting machine needs to get in and out of our fields without getting stuck, and also need to traverse little, narrow back roads that generally lack gravel. With these roads becoming wetter and wetter, farmers can fail to access some of their fields.
Rain at harvest time also lowers the test weights as it causes the wheat kernels to swell something like puffed wheat cereal. When it rains, kernels swell and upon drying, they do not shrink back to their original volume, shape, and smoothness. This results in more space between kernels, and they will not pack into a bushel as well as they did before the rain.
Test weight is a measure of how much grain weight can be placed in a given volume. Though few farmers took up wheat farming in Manicaland as the majority quit citing high operational costs and poor return on investment, yields were looking good enough and it was going to be profitable. Wheat residue is also bailed as livestock feed.
Apart from know white farmers that have religiously planted the crop in Mutasa district, majority of black farmers in the province have turned their backs on the crop for its poor returns. Winter wheat is planted from the beginning on May of very year. Manicaland failed to surpass 1 000 hectares. At its peak of production, Manicaland used to record an excess of 9000ha of winter wheat.
The major contributor for the decline in winter production in the province was that the Arda Estates in Middle Sabi region, which used to account for more than 5 000ha alone, have been put under sugar-cane. Wheat is a winter crop that is grown under uninterrupted irrigation.
Zimbabwe needs about 400 000 tonnes of wheat per annum and this year’s wheat output will fall sharply to an unprecedented level, igniting fears that the cereal’s production was on brink of extinction. In recent years the country has failed to produce half of its annual requirement despite wheat being an important cereal crop that contributes to the diet of the general populace, especially with regards to bread which is eaten as a major part of breakfast.
In the past years the country has been importing about 300,000 tonnes of wheat to meet annual internal consumption requirements. Economists have correctly pointed out that a deficit in wheat harvests was bad for Zimbabwe as it would mean Government will have to commit more funds towards importation of the cereal grain.
Some farmers said the main reason why they planted the crop had nothing to do with profit, but merely to improve the soil fertility and control of diseases. Most of these farmers have centre pivot irrigation systems.