Vincent Maali is a budding commercial farmer in newly created Kakumiro district.
Two years ago, he abandoned his accounts profession to embark on farming on his daddy’s land that wasn’t properly utilized.
He drew inspiration from stories of successful commercial farmers as well as his own research.
Today, Maali has turned out to be a role model farmer in Kikaada village, Kasambya Sub County, Kakumiro district.
While many farmers struggle to get a ton (1000 kilograms) from an acre of maize, Maali gets over 3000 kilograms (over 30-100kg bags) per acre.
Being a graduate, Maali is a smart farmer; he wears an ovral garment most of the times so much that ‘villagers’ hardly associate him with farming.
For the upcoming rain season, he is targeting over 20 acres. He explained to Business Focus how other farmers can get over three tons from an acre of maize and earn good money from a crop that has become one of Uganda’s top food and cash crops.
Before one embarks on large scale maize farming, Maali says it is prudent to know whether the soil is suitable for the crop. He says NARO and Kawanda Research Centre can help in soil testing. For him however, it didn’t require him to carry out soil testing because maize grows well in his area and most importantly his land was virgin.
Research suggests that maize likes rich soil with good drainage. Ideal soil for maize is sandy loam that stays moist, without being too wet.
“You need to prepare your land early enough to enable it cool down. It should be ready at least a month before planting,” he says.
“You need to till your land with a tractor or hoe; not necessarily using herbicides. You must also remove all the stamps in order to maximize the land and yields,” he adds.
Maali’s secret to successfully get over 3000kgs from an acre attributes it to planting the ‘right seed’. He says he plants hybrid and other improved varieties of maize from Uganda and Kenya.
“You can’t plant traditional varieties got from harvest of the previous season and compete with one with improved seed,” he says, adding: “What does it hurt to buy 10kgs at Shs70,000 and get 3,000kgs per acre?”
He explains that farmers shouldn’t panic to plant given the erratic weather changes.
“Rains/water determine germination rate. You should be sure that rains have started (for you to plant),” he says, advising farmers to dig hills (holes) and wait for the rains to plant. He also advises them to soak seeds in foliar fertilizers for quick and uniform germination.
Spacing-The Determining Factor Of 3 Tons
Maali says even if a farmer applies the best agronomic practices without proper spacing, the yields will still be low. He reveals that to get high maize yields; it’s about plant population in a given space.
“Sometimes I don’t care the size of cobs, but how many cobs I have in an acre,” he says.
He says many farmers have different planting/spacing methods they apply, but for him, he adopted a ‘free style’.
“I don’t make lines because they are time consuming and tedious. I only dig hills (holes) and space them at one foot apart. I put only one seed in each hill,” he says.
He explains that given the fact that an acre is 40 meters (120ft) by 120 meters (360ft), he will have 43, 200 plants per acre (120*360).
“While others plant 10kgs in acre, I plant 15kgs in one acre,” he says.
He explains that while some may not germinate or the garden may have many stamps, at least a farmer can have 25,000 well brought up plants.
“If you give each maize cob (assuming a plant gave you one) 120gms, you are sure you will get over 3,000kgs which is equivalent to 30 bags of 100kgs each,” he says, revealing that last season he got about 3,400kgs from each acre of maize.
He however says that the only challenge with this planting method is weeding and walking properly through the garden.
“With this spacing, using ordinary big hoes may not be possible. What I do, I use specially made hoes; I buy a new hoe and take it to welders to make me this ‘magic’ hoe,” he says pointing to the hoe.
He reveals that he also uses herbicides to weed his maize.
He adds that maize requires timely weeding like two weeks after planting. If weeds are many, he recommends a second weeding be done.
“If you don’t weed early, your maize will compete with weeds for nutrients and minimize on yields,” he says.
He says maize growth can be boosted using organic and inorganic fertilizers. Cow dung, poultry litter and manure are some organic fertilizers that can be used to boost yields.
Inorganic fertilizers like NPK, DAP help boost growth.
“My soil is fertile, so I only apply NPK after weeding using broadcast method,” he says, adding that he sometimes adds foliar fertilizers.
He adds that when plants are well fertilized, they increasingly become overcrowded given the spacing. This, he says can affect easy movement of a farmer to inspect the garden.
“This may also affect productivity. All you need to do is to prune up to four leaves when they (maize) about to start flowering. Removal of excess leaves will help the plant save food for the maize cob,” he says, adding: “It will also help air move swiftly and ease your movement.”
He adds that the cut leaves can be left to rot or can be eaten by animals for those who are into mixed farming.
He says farming requires close supervision than any other business.
“Out of experience, my first duty is to move around the garden and find out what is happening. I don’t let it to workers,” Maali says, adding that it is also important to supervise workers properly. He says given the increasing threat of the armyworm, daily inspection is important. For him, he sprays pesticides after germination and weeding. He also applies them depending on the situation.
“You can also mix foliar fertilizer with pesticides to save on labour and time,” he says.
Maali says most maize varieties take four months to dry up. He says many farmers lose a lot at harvesting time, revealing that it is important to have a storage system. Storing maize helps a farmer to sell when prices are high.
Maali says the cost varies from farmer to farmer depending on many factors including labour, source of inputs and the technology used among others.
He says he has permanent farm workers and this helps him save some money.
He says on average, Shs700, 000 can be spent on acre, but this reduces if one grows maize on a large scale.
He explains that while prices of maize grains have gone past Shs1, 000 per kilogram in recent seasons, the average price has been Shs700 per kilogram.
This means that a farmer can earn a gross profit of Shs2.1m (700*3,000) and a net profit of Shs1.4m (Shs2, 100,000-700,000) in six months.
“This means you have been earning Shs233, 333 per month (Shs1.4 divide by six months),” he says, adding that is a good return on investment.
He adds that if a farmer sells the 3,000 kilograms at Shs1,000, they will pocket a gross profit of Shs3m.
“I would advise farmers to start small and grow big. To get some good money, you need to start with at least five acres. A farmer can easily earn a net profit of Shs7m from five acres of maize,” he says, adding that farmers can also maximize profits by adding value to their produce (maize).