THE countdown to the planting of irrigated tobacco has already started! Yes, it will be happening just next month — September — with dry land planting coming between October and December.
This means those farmers intending to go with the irrigated version should now be busy in their nurseries doing the necessary preparatory work to ensure their season takes off smoothly.
Of late, the focus has been on ensuring that the seedlings are protected from frost that is characteristic of the last days of winter and is known to be a big party spoiler, that can easily rout them to their demise.
This is also the time for those farmers who had applied mulching to start removing it to allow plants to interact with the sun, while making sure their watering regimes are maintained to meet the plants’ water requirements.
Farmers must also be spraying fungicides such as copper to protect the crop from fungal diseases that affect growth and ultimately quality.
While these activities are taking place, farmers must also remember to control the traditional enemy of all crops — weeds — that can easily outdo plants in the fight for both nutrients and growing space.
This activity should be accompanied by clipping of leaves and trimming of roots too to allow plants to take a good growth trajectory.
All these activities should, however, be taking place in a clean environment in which there is regulated movement of people, as they can easily transmit diseases from out of the field to the plants.
This, therefore, requires the farmer to practise strict hygiene and put foot baths and running water for the dipping of feet and washing of hands respectively at entry points.
Farmers must also not forget to do hardening-off of their plants as the transplanting time draws near so that plants will not be affected by the shock of being transplanted, which temporarily stalls growth.
But while this is happening, it is also crucial for farmers to be doing land preparations on the sidelines so that they will not waste time once planting time comes.
They should be doing soil testing and correcting anomalies, if any, that might be found in their soils.
It is also time to be making ridges that should be at least 20 centimetres off the ground while in some cases they may need to be repairing fences to make sure no animals gain access to the crop once it is established.
One very important thing farmers must not forget to do is make sure they start looking for either wood or coal for the curing of their tobacco.
In recent years, tobacco farmers have been blamed left, right and centre for indiscriminate cutting down of trees, especially the indigenous breeds, for use in tobacco curing hence the need for them to secure exotic trees and coal for the purpose.
As a rule of thumb, farmers who have intentions to grow or who grow tobacco should just establish woodlots so that the trees they cut are replaced to ensure they do not cause desertification.
Very often farmers have complained that the costs of buying and moving coal from Hwange are high but this can always be mitigated through working in groups and sharing the costs.
This means they should start preparing for tobacco curing now and start buying and stocking their coal or even exotic trees from those that have surplus to sell.
It is always important to have all the necessary materials for tobacco curing well before that part of the season sets in, as there will be other pressures also competing for the farmer’s attention.
Tobacco farmers have been roundly condemned for causing serious deforestation especially those making their debut, as they do not have woodlots in most cases.
This is the group largely known to rely 100 percent on forests, which unfortunately are fast dwindling and have since disappeared in some cases.
It is also exciting to note that Government, on the other hand, is doing all it can to boost production of the golden leaf that is known for playing a very important role in the revival of the economy and has since announced its intentions to create a revolving fund to anchor the production of 60 million kilogrammes the next season.
To make this vision a reality, Treasury has availed US$60 million meant to capacitate the tobacco industry in line with localisation of tobacco funding following the realisation that limitations in accessing funding from banks due to lack of collateral was pushing most farmers to join contract farming, which was causing tobacco sales at auction floors to decline.
The drive by Government to keep the auction system running with enhanced access to funding for farmers will be backed by support through the recently launched AFC, while the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) will also roll out the Tobacco Input Credit Scheme (TICS).
This is a sure demonstration of the value all stakeholders are attaching to the production of tobacco.
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All these developments are part of a raft of measures being implemented to save the auction system from collapsing with local funding meant to make sure that proceeds generated from the sale of the crop remain local and for use by the economy and the tobacco producers.
In his recent state of preparedness for the 2021/22 season report, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka also stressed that local inputs content would be funded from the Agriculture Finance Corporation (AFC) with the foreign currency component required to import inputs coming from the auction system.
He also hinted that TIMB would recover its support through a stop order system.
The bulk of Zimbabwe’s tobacco is being produced under contract arrangements, which is threatening the auction system that is currently handling less than 6,5 percent of the crop while contracts floors receive almost 93,5 percent.
Most growers are producing the crop under contract arrangements where they get funding, back-up services and higher prices than their counterparts dealing with the auction system.