I have slightly over 40 acres of mix farm devoted to the growing of food crops for people and animals and other crops. Other activities on the farm include beekeeping, fish farming and a small diary unit. I am now planning to introduce some wildlife on the farm to create more demand for the farm produce. I have cherished the idea of farming from childhood when it helped me to raise school fees for my education. My involvement in farming enabled me to achieve my education goals and to appreciate its importance. My involved in farming started as a hobby then grew into a business venture. Like any other business one has to overcome a number of challenges in farming in order to succeed. The challenges that I have had to overcome over time are many and the key ones include the following;
- Inadequate rainfall
- Lack of proper seeds
- Lack of agricultural extension services
- Many animal and plant diseases
- Shortage of effective labour
- Thefts of crops and animals
- Lack of effective demand
- Low application of technology
- Limited capital
The above list of challenges for sure will keep away many would be commercial farmers except for those who are determined to make a career in farming. In this article I will share some of the following helpful approaches that I came to discover mainly through trial and error.
Your success in farming will depend on the amount of quality planning effort you put in the development of a business plan. You have to know where you are in terms of your blessings or lack of blessings in areas under your control and those which are outside your control. For example you have take samples of your soil to the authorised labs for soil testing in order to determine the type of crops which can do better on your farm. You have to know the mission you want to achieve through farming. The above will enable you to prepare an effective plan that will move you from where you are to where you want to go in order to achieve your mission. Without a plan, your farming activities will be on copy and paste approach. You will tend to do what everyone else is doing because you will lack originality.
Interest in farming
Farming has a lot of challenges and it is only your keen interest in farming that will keep you moving on. I have considered abandoning farming on many times but not done so because of my focused interest in farming. My interest in farming is since my childhood days.
Source of labour
It is extremely difficult to get good source of effective labour at an affordable cost. Upcountry labour tends to be cheaper than urban labour but there is a lot of hands training for both sources of labour. There is a lot of guidance, motivation and supervision required for both sources of labour. I have experienced high labour turnover on farm despite my effort to retain the labour force.
Farming depends on continuous supply of water to the crops either through rainfall or irrigation. Rainfall alone has been unpredictable over recent past hence irrigation option has to be considered. Therefore you have to consider source of water for irrigation before you venture into farming. There is a permanent river running through my farm which is helping me in irrigation and developing fish ponds.
You will need some capital to acquire some basic resources like land, farm implements, seed, medicines and working capital to pay running costs relating to clearing and maintenance of the farm. It is advisable to start on a small scale to learn how to overcome challenges in farming. I remember I started with three acres of maize which was almost consumed by monkeys, birds and farm workers resulting in a total loss. I developed a strategy of managing the risks before I planted the next 10 acres of maize and three acres of vegetables. The amount of capital will depend on the size of farm you wish to develop.
Government agriculture extension support
Through practice I have come to realise there is hardly any free support from government. The support you get will depend on the relationships you have built with people in the civil service and your ability to facilitate them. It is therefore advisable to build relationships with experts from the universities, research institutions and experienced farmers before you venture into farming. You have also to read a lot about the farming activity you plan to engage in. I remember I lost my passion crop to a disease without viable support. I was advised to plan a new disease resistant passion crop. I could have avoided the disaster if I had imported and planned a disease free and resistant variety from certified suppliers. It is however important to note that you may face failure in some crops because of conditions beyond your control.
When to plant
There are main activities you can engage in farming but the guiding factor is the effective demand and prices for the produce. There is a tendency of farm produce prices falling during harvest especially when farming is dependent on rainfall. The best strategy is to plant during the dry season using irrigation so that your crop will mature during the period when there is effective demand and prices are high. Therefore plant your commercial crops for country domestic consumption during the dry when almost all farmers are not planting. You will have take other factors into account when you are producing for export market.
Application of technology
In the very beginning I wanted to engage in technolocally driven farming but was kept aware by prohibitive costs of acquiring technology and its maintenance. In the beginning I used tractors for ploughing but the tractors available had only a plough and not harrowing equipments. Ploughing had to be done so many times for the farm to be ready for planting. I also imported a grass chopper but I could not get experienced people to maintain it. I therefore had to rely on expensive human labour until I resorted to chemical control of weeds.
I experienced human thefts of bananas, sugarcane, milk, poultry birds, eggs and fruits on the farm for some time until I ventured into crops like timber trees that cannot easily be stolen. Thefts by human beings vary depending on how close your farm is to the urban centre. The thefts tend to be high if you are so close to the urban area. I literally abandoned farming on the land I have within the urban centre and moved the farm about 8 kms away. I also enhanced security on the farm to minimise human thefts.
Quality of seed
The quality and quantity of your harvest depends on the quality of seed you procure for your farm. There are many fake seeds on the market and you are advised to procure quality seeds from the right sources and to follow the planting instructions given to you.
The challenges in commercial farming are many but can be overcome through proper planning before one ventures into farming. You are advised to build good relationships with experienced farmers and experts that you will tend to rely on for advice.