News and knowhow for farmers

Conservation agriculture halves ploughing costs while preserving soils

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By George Munene 

Through the use of rip­per ploughs in con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture farm­ers are able to halve their pro­duc­tion cost while ad­vantaging them­selves in ways not ac­cess­ible to farm­ers prac­ti­cing tra­di­tional con­ven­tional ag­ri­cul­ture.

“In con­ven­tional ag­ri­cul­ture, land pre­par­a­tion be­fore plant­ing en­tails first plough­ing, this in West­ern Kenya costs a farmer Sh3000 for every acre. This is then pre­ceded by a second plough­ing which costs a sim­ilar amount. After plant­ing farm­ers often prac­tice their first and second weed­ing; 10 hands can weed an acre of land with each paid Sh300 for the day’s work. In all, this sets a farmer back Sh12,500,” ex­plains Geof­frey Wan­jala, a field ag­ro­nom­ist who is also Busia’s Farmer Ser­vice Cen­ters Senior Ag­ribusi­ness Co­ordin­ator. 

With rip­ping, in con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture farm­ers are whit­tling down this to just Sh5,500 an acre. This con­sti­tutes Sh2,500 in charges for hir­ing a tractor-moun­ted rip­per; buy­ing herb­i­cides as well as the op­tion of hir­ing spray ser­vice pro­viders each cost­ing Sh500. In maize farm­ing, an ad­di­tional Sh1,500 is used in weed­ing herb­i­cides coupled with a sim­ilar Sh500 charge in spray­ing cost.

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Rip­ping ser­vices are ac­cess­ible to farm­ers across the coun­try through satel­lite Farmer Ser­vice Centres avail­able in 12 counties across the coun­try. This is a net­work of over 300 ag­ri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers that help farm­ers ag­greg­ate their plough­ing land to make it com­mer­cially feas­ible for plough­ing ser­vice pro­viders to work on smal­ler land sizes. “We have availed this ser­vice to farm­ers across most counties in West­ern, Nyanza, Rift Val­ley and East­ern re­gions,” Wan­jala says.

Moreover, con­ser­va­tion ag­ri­cul­ture has many other ad­vant­ages that in­clude: pre­serving soil struc­ture and the in­tact­ness of soil mi­croor­gan­isms as the soil is min­im­ally tilled; in­creas­ing soil fer­til­ity; re­duc­tion of water erosion—rip­pers are fit­ted with tines that pen­et­rate the soil to a depth of up to 30 cen­ti­meters, this in­creases water per­col­a­tion and re­duces water run­off. Also, by per­for­at­ing deep into the soil pro­file, rip­ping gives crop roots ac­cess to leached min­er­als.

Disk ploughs and hand-held hoes can only reach a depth of 10-15 cen­ti­meters, this cre­ates a hard­pan that en­cour­ages erosion when it rains by pre­vent­ing water from trick­ling into the soil. This hard­pan also causes lat­eral root­ing which means crops are eas­ily sus­cept­ible to drought.

Mois­ture con­ser­va­tion in arid re­gions—de­com­pos­ing crop residue forms mulch which cools the en­vir­on­ment around the plant’s roots. It also provides warmth over the cold sea­son im­prov­ing crop per­form­ance.

Rip­ping cre­ates fur­rows or rip lines where fer­til­isers and seeds are then sowed in manu­ally or through use of tractor moun­ted plant­ers. This fur­ther re­duces pro­duc­tion costs by elim­in­at­ing the need for dig­ging holes or fur­rows. “Once a farmer has con­duc­ted two or three rip­ping ses­sions which would have com­pletely broken soil hard­pans, they can en­tirely prac­tice zero till­age which ex­erts even less in plant­ing costs by totally doing away with plough­ing,” Em­manuel says.    

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Rip­pers are however lim­ited in their use as they can­not be used to break ground for crops such as pota­toes which first re­quire to be ploughed ver­tic­ally with chisel ploughs to break hard pans be­fore rip­ping. 

As more farm­ers em­brace the use of rip­ping in land pre­par­a­tion, Wan­jala ar­gues the tech­no­logy’s costs are only bound to re­duce; “rip­per moun­ted tract­ors con­sume less fuel than the ones fit­ted with disc ploughs. This makes their op­er­a­tion­al­isa­tion far cheaper for plough­ing ser­vice pro­viders. There is cur­rently a dearth of rip­per ploughs but as more farm­ers opt for the use of this tech­no­logy there is bound to be a cor­res­pond­ing in­crease in its ser­vice pro­vider which will lead to a re­duc­tion in the pri­cing of rip­ping ser­vices,” he ar­gues.

Farmer Ser­vice Centre

Geof­frey Wan­jala: 0710454130

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