Growing Gold

April is a month of intensive preparations for the Southern Cape farmer in anticipation for the approaching planting season, which usually kicks off in early May. Multifaceted logistical planning is involved. Planters, tractors and sprayers have been inspected and serviced since the beginning of March, and essential parts ordered and installed to ensure that no unnecessary delays arise during the planting process. Many of these parts have a protracted supply chain due to the fact that most are imported, mainly from the USA or Europe. Early planning is therefore crucial.

Fertilizer orders are currently being delivered and wheat, barley and canola seeds are being shipped from local cooperatives where they have been cleaned and stored for the past 4 months. Farmers need to ensure that supplies of all the essential items are ready for when planting commences.  Pre-planting applications are sprayed on wheat fields to stave off weeds that tend to draw excess moisture from the soil. Keep in mind that the fields have lay fallow since the harvest season in November, with the previous crop stubble and straw left to naturally decompose in the fields.

The crop residue helps to keep the soil cool and aids in the retention of moisture from any rain that has fallen during the summer, which creates an ideal microclimate for a host of microorganisms, which aid in the decomposition of these crop residues into healthy nutrients which are later made available to the wheat plant. This biodynamic system is absolutely essential to ensure optimal returns in a conservation farming system.

When fields are ready for planting, complete with healthy crop residues and all necessary equipment and supplies have been procured, the wheat farmer then just needs sit tight and wait for the rainy season to begin.

Rainfall in April is certainly not a given and this can present significant challenges for all grain farmers in the Southern and Western Cape. The turning of seasons from summer to winter can be somewhat inconsistent and unpredictable. Cold fronts need to start moving in overland, but this does not always coincide with a farmer’s planning schedule.

This makes the retention of moisture in the soil all the more critical and has a significant impact on the farmer’s ability to start planting even with minimal rainfall. Sowing can commence in prepared fields with as little as 5mm of rainfall in the last week of April or early May.

The wheat farmer plants with a song in his heart! The heady scent of rich, moist soil, mixed with the feint smell of diesel fumes from busy tractors heralds a fresh start and helps a farmer quickly forget about any disappointments and poor harvests from previous years. Their sights are now firmly set on the new growing season ahead and the prospect of a bountiful harvest.

AUTHOR: Dirk van Papendorp

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