Dr John Basera
Do not let anyone fool you, farming pays and pays big!
But, some fundamentals have to be true! One of the key fundamentals for farming enterprise management is to have different income streams. The more the better is the narrative! The principle follows that, a farmer must send produce to the market every one-two months (at most), weekly or daily . . . the better and healthier.
This is key to improved liquidity flow on the farm, but more importantly addresses the overall top-line (annual, monthly or weekly incomes) of the farming enterprise. We can make a strong case that, crop diversity spreads risks and broadens the catch (more revenue per year). The principle can be achieved through enterprise diversity (crops, animal husbandry, poultry etc., on one farm) and/or crop diversity (maize, soyabean, sugar bean, green mealies, vegetables, wheat etc.). It is almost hard to have a smoothly run and financially sound farming enterprise without having several streams of income.
Thinking of this time in the season, green mealie production, vegetable production and sugar bean production are good and viable options which a farmer can take up. This week, we will explore the economics and the profit story of summer rain-fed, winter, irrigated sugar bean production, at farm level.
This is only a Gross Margin Budget Guide and is based on industrial average prices (2018) and only applies to rain-fed sugar bean. Farmers should use figures relevant for their circumstances and seasons. Improve yields and contain costs to maintain a health value wedge!! Visit www.seedcogroup.com/zw for cost breakdown and more.
Sugar bean is one venture with a very lucrative Return On Investment (ROI), which farmers can consider for production in irrigation schemes, A2, A1, large and small-scale farming sectors, this summer season.
It is one enterprise which follows a basic gross margin principle that if you invest a dollar you can get two-fold return, assuming best agronomic practices are religiously practised.
Normally, the cost of production for summer sugar bean averages $1 000/ha, after absorbing all variable costs e.g. fertilisers, seed, supplementary irrigation costs, electricity, labour, to mention just the major variable cost drivers. This cost structure excludes fixed costs.
If everything is done optimally, and GAPs (Good Agronomic Practices) are adopted as we strongly recommend, and achieving at least 2 tonne/ha, a farmer can rake in a minimum gross income of $2 300, up to $3 400 after a period of 3 months.
The current rolling prices of $1 150 per tonne of sugar bean are a “sweetener” enough to encourage farmers to take this venture and make more money. The farmer must always target to achieve yields above the break even yield of 0,8 tonne/ha, above 1 tonne/ha, the better!
At all times, a farmer must improve yields and contain costs to maintain a health value wedge or margin. This is the rule of the thumb for sustainable farming enterprises and it is always wise to follow this rule!
The key phrase is Good Agronomic Practices (GAPs). Religious adoption of GAPs is a key fundamental to improved productivity and profitability of any farming venture. If farm productivity and profitability go wrong, nothing else will go right for the farming enterprise.
Sugar bean production tips
Best grown out of summer (January to April) because of disease pressure and flower abortion due to excessive temperatures. The month of January, into the first week of February is the optimum time to plant sugar bean under rain-fed systems.
Grow on a wide range of soils, but pH of between 5,3 and 6,5 is optimum. Requires a well prepared soil to a depth of 60-90cm.
Best grown on heavier and sandy loam soils with a clay content of >20percent.
Grown throughout the year unless there are limitations of excessive temperatures, lack of water, too much rainfall or frost.
Temperature should not exceed 30 Degrees Celsius at flowering. This may result in floral sterility. Floral and pod sterility may also result if temperature drops below 15°C.
The crop requires about 450-650mm of rainfall and or irrigation.
Planting must be timed to ensure that heavy rains do not coincide with flowering and maturation. Avoid irrigating during flowering as this may result in flower drop.
Soils and climate
Sugar beans may be grown on a wide range of soils, but generally prefers soils with clay content above 15 percent, and the crop is sensitive to soil acidity. Select fertile to moderately fertile land with no water logging. The crop is best grown during the cooler months of summer (January to April) on the Highveld or in winter in the Lowveld with irrigation. In the Highveld, sugar bean can be grown after frost occurrence.
A number of varieties are available, from speckled sugar beans, for example SC Bounty and SC Sharp types to white broad beans. It is important to select the right variety for the intended market, as there are different market preferences. The most preferred is the speckled type.
Also, choose varieties that are resistant and tolerant to Rust, Anthracnose, Angular Leaf Spot and Common Mosaic Virus; diseases. Beans are prone to diseases transmitted through the seed, so good quality, disease-free certified seed from Seed Co should be obtained each season. Do not plant retained seed, but rather buy good seed each year.
Think about the rotation scheme for the field you want to plant. To prevent diseases, do not plant beans in the same field you used for beans last season. Clear all vegetation and prepare the field manually with a hoe, or use animal power or a tractor.
You can plant sugar beans on ridges or on a seedbed. Planting on ridges helps prevent water logging, which damages the sugar bean plants. Well-prepared land ensures good germination and reduces weed infestation.
Inoculation with sugar bean specific Rhizobia is important to help sugar beans form nodules and nitrogen. Each legume crop needs a specific type of rhizobium bacteria, so always check you have the right inoculation for sugar beans. Sometimes sugar bean rhizobium is not easily accessible, and in such cases we recommend farmers to top dress their sugar bean crop to supply nitrogen.
How to inoculate sugar beans with Rhizobia?
- Spread 100kg of sugar bean seed (enough to plant 1ha) on a clean plastic sheet or in a large container.
- Mix 100g of inoculant and 1 litre of water in a clean bucket.
- Add 50 grammes of sugar into the solution. The sugar acts as an adhesive between the seed and the inoculant.
- Stir the solution for 30 seconds.
- Sprinkle the inoculant mix onto the seed.
- As you sprinkle the inoculant onto the seed, turn the seed gently to ensure that all seeds are coated with the inoculant, without causing splits. The coated seeds should look shiny wet.
- Plant immediately after inoculation and protect the inoculated seed from direct sunlight by covering the container with paper, cloth or gunny bag.
- Sow the seeds in cool moist soil and cover immediately afterwards to protect the Rhizobia from sunlight. Each inoculant packet is sufficient for 100kg of seed.
For smaller amounts of seeds, use 10g inoculant (2 heaped teaspoons), 5g sugar (1 teaspoon) and 100ml water per 10kg seed.
Planting and crop establishment
This depends, somewhat, on the variety. Short determinate varieties ought to be planted in 45-50cm rows with 5 to 10cm between plants, giving a population of about 350 000 plants per ha. Tall indeterminate varieties may be planted on wider spacing. Seed is placed about 2-3cm deep.
Beans are sensitive to acid soils, so lime is required if the pH is less than 5,3. The optimum pH level is 5,5 – 6,5. Beans are efficient users of residual fertiliser but nevertheless they do respond to applied fertiliser, especially if the soil is inherently fertile.
Sugar bean may be fertilised with manure or low rates (200 to 350kg per ha) of a compound fertiliser (e.g. 7.14.7). A light top dressing with 100-150 kg/ha (depending on soil type) with a 28-34 percent N fertiliser (e.g. Ammonium Nitrate) just before flowering may also be required if the leaves are pale in colour.
Quote of the week
The power of agriculture: “The power of investing in agriculture is clear: Agriculture development is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any other sector. Let’s get agriculture right to achieve Zero hunger. If we get agriculture right, then we are on the right track to get everything else right.”
Dr Basera, Agronomy and Extension Services Manager; Seed Co Limited (Zimbabwe Division); Contact: +263 772 413 184; email: [email protected] seedcogroup.com; Website: www.seedcogroup.com/zw; Twitter: @basera_john or @SeedCo2