Kuta harvested 2,700 kilograms of maize grain from three quarters of an acre last season
Maize farming has increasingly become lucrative in recent years after farm-gate prices stabilized at an average of Shs1,000 per kilogram of maize grain.
About 10 years ago, many farmers in Uganda abandoned maize farming after prices hit a record low of Shs200 per kilogram of maize grain, subjecting many to untold losses.
However, for the past five years, maize prices have generally been attractive, thanks to the increasing demand of maize both within the country and the region.
However, quality concerns remain. Authorities are calling upon farmers and traders to observe the best farming and post-harvest handling practices so that maize from Uganda is free from Aflatoxins.
Farmers are also encouraged to only harvest well dried maize cobs in order to produce quality maize flour.
Once quality issues are addressed, maize farmers will increasingly smile to the bank because the demand for maize will only grow.
However, maize productivity remains very low in Uganda, with many farmers struggling to get 10 bags from an acre of maize.
During a recent on-farm coffee training at JBK Modern Farm in Kikyusa, Luwero district, this reporter and other farmers were fascinated by the unique technique used at the farm to grow maize and get higher returns from a small plot of land.
In the first season of 2023 (last season), the farm harvested 2,700 kilograms of maize grain from three quarters of an acre.
JBK Modern Farm sits on 30 acres, with coffee as the main enterprise occupying 27 acres.
The three remaining acres accommodate a house for workers, store, goats pen (he rears about 50 goats under zero grazing), a cemented drying yard (100ft*50ft), kitchen and the rest of the land (close to an acre) is used for maize growing.
JBK Modern Farm is a family enterprise started by Jossy Balissa Kuta, a Biomedical Engineer and his wife about 10 years ago.
Business Focus had an exclusive interview with Eng Kuta on techniques he employs to get higher maize yields from a small piece of land.
In this article, you’ll practically learn the simple ways you can embrace to get as high as 35 bags of maize worth 3,500 kilograms from an acre.
Holes are key
Kuta practices what he describes as intensive maize farming.
His holes are extraordinary. Each hole is one feet in length, width and depth. It’s dug in a square form to form a basin like hole.
“All edges of the hole are equal. We scoop out the soil and put it aside. This helps us to break the soil pan because if the soil is left in the hole, it remains compacted and doesn’t become loose. By breaking the soil pan, we loosen the soil particles which in the end will assist the root zone of the plant we plant in the hole. It can be maize, sorghum or beans,” Kuta says, adding that he mixes three quarters of the soil scooped out of the hole with manure (manure equivalent to one quarter of the soil volume scooped out of the hole) and back fills the hole.
He says he mainly uses goats droppings or poultry litter, but any other organic manure can be used.
“The manure and the soil should be mixed well; they should be homogeneous,” he says, adding that he prefers goats manure because it can serve the purpose for two to three years without a repeat.
“This is because the soil has been conditioned,” he says.
He says when back-filling the hole, he leaves at least two inches up to the top of the hole so as to create a basin like hole. This helps the plant to get more water when it rains. He adds that this same hole/s can be used for many seasons.
He advises farmers to prepare their gardens earlier. The back-filling should be done at least two weeks before planting.
“A farmer should plant at least after one heavy rain. It’s also better to apply your NPK towards the onset of rains because it releases nutrients faster and this helps the plants to grow faster. You can apply 50gms of the fertilizer (equivalent to a bottle top of plastic soda) in each hole and mix it with the back-filled soil,” he says, adding that the maize or any other plant will grow faster because the manure will be well decomposed and the NPK will have dissolved rather than applying them at planting time.
He advises farmers to apply NPK with a higher percentage of phosphorous (P) and a little percentage of N and K because younger plants require more phosphorous since it’s good for root development.
He says he has moved away from the conventional DAP because it has largely phosphorous and almost nothing of N and K. He advises farmers to go for fertilizers specially designed for maize and these are readily available on the market.
Spacing & planting
Kuta plants five seeds in a hole; one seed in each corner of the hole and one in the middle.
He says spacing from one hole to another can be 1.5ft or 2ft and in between the rows 2ft. He says an acre will have an average of 3,500 holes. This will require about 25 kilograms of maize seed.
“Since the soil pan is already broken, the soil in that hole is so loose so much that at planting, one needs just a pointed stick to make a hole and place the maize seeds,” Kuta says, adding that one can also use hands or fingers to place the seeds.
“If the germination ratio of your seed is not good, then you can place in the hole six seeds but separately,” he says.
After germination, he says, farmers should remove extra seedlings and only keep five. Farmers can also do gap filling in case of poor germination in the first week of germination.
He says the day after planting, they use recommended herbicides to ensure that the field is weed free and this helps the maize to grow faster since they aren’t competing with weeds for nutrients.
“After two weeks, we start weeding our maize. At one month, we do top dressing with NPK that is high in K to assist the maize in flowering and less in P because we no longer need it,” he says, adding that there are also specially designed fertilizers for maize at this stage.
Kuta says one needs about two to three 50kg bags of fertilizer at planting and three more bags for top dressing. Currently, a bag of fertilizer averages Shs180,000.
He adds that at early stages, pesticides are applied to control the fall armyworm.
According to Kuta, with the above practices, a farmer can harvest 3,500 kilograms of maize grains from an acre of maize.
“Last season, we harvested 2,700 kilograms of maize grain from three quarters of an acre despite the dry spell that hit us for a few weeks,” he says.
According to Kuta, costs vary depending on one’s location, the kind of labour used and accessibility to manure.
He however says six bags of fertilizers will cost an average of Shs1,000,000.
Kuta adds that one requires about 60 bags of goat manure/droppings. The cost vary based on how a farmer can access it.
“At my farm, I get the manure from my zero grazing structure of goats. Once the manure is applied, it can take us two years without a repeat,” he says.
He adds that labour for making the basin holes for an acre is about Shs250,000.
“This is a one time cost. The seasons that follow, one will pay around Shs150,000 for labour to remove maize stalks from the holes,” he says.
“An acre will take around 25kgs of Maize Seed for planting.
Here, the costs vary depending on the maize variety one chooses on the market,” he says.
He says labour for applying and mixing the manure in the holes is about Shs100,000 and it’s paid once in two years.
Applying NPK at planting and top dressing levels will cost around Shs90,000.
Planting and weeding will cost an average of Shs200,000.
He says due to the current situation where armyworm attacks maize, they buy a good pesticide at around Shs50,000 and spray four times at at cost of Shs60,000.
He says harvesting will cost about Shs80,000.
Kuta says without using family labour and buying almost everything, a farmer will spend an average of Shs2.2m in the first season of this intensive farming system. The following season, the cost reduces slightly. Additionally, the more the acres, the less the costs.
“Depending on the maize variety and with other factors put into place, a farmer can generate gross sales of Shs5,000,000 from an acre of maize,” Kuta says, adding that a kilogram of maize has averaged Shs1,500.
“An acre of maize can generate a profit of over Shs4m per year (from two seasons,” Kuta says, adding that maize is easy to grow since it only requires land preparation, fertilizer application, planting, weeding and harvesting. Maize takes about four months to be harvested.
“All those activities don’t require a lot of time,” he says, adding: “Knowledge is wealth if put into action.”
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