With the onset of the March- May long rains after a long period of persistent drought, farmers have been urged to carry out practices that will help minimize the cost of production and maximize yield by unlocking nutrients available in the soil.
Soil analyst Bernard Ndung’u opines that despite the many challenges being experienced by farmers due to ever changing production environment, a few strategies can be employed in their farms which will not only keep their enterprises afloat but also will reduce the cost of production whose input prices have been on an upward trajectory.
“For maximum yields, farmers can reduce fertilizer application by unlocking the nutrients naturally found in the soil and the first step to release the nutrients is by conducting a soil test,” he says
“In many areas in the country due to the farming methods applied, many soils are deficient in key nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium since they are locked up in the soil and are thus unavailable to crops which leads to reduced yields and poor plant health,” observes Ndung’u
As such farmers are greatly encouraged to carry out soil testing so as to understand the nutrient levels available in their farms and also know what nutrients are present and in what quantities.
The soil analysis report, he says, will be used to create a customized fertilizer program that addresses any nutrient deficiencies.
Farmers are also encouraged to use well decomposed farm yard manure, compost manure or waste from cover crops.
“The organic material improves soil structure, increases water-holding capacity and promotes beneficial microbial activity all of which helps to release nutrients that were previously unavailable to crops” he adds.
Ndung’u further underscores the need for farmers to carry out crop rotation which involves planting different crops in the same field over multiple growing seasons.
“If for instance you plant legume crops such as beans or peas, they can help to fix nitrogen in the soil making it available to subsequent crops. Crop rotation helps break up soil compaction and increase soil nutrient availability and maximize utilization,” he says.
Additionally, farmers can use lime but need to do so cautiously as not all soils require lime and adding too much can have detrimental effects on soil health.
“Soil pH has a major effect on the availability of certain nutrients; if the soil is too acidic nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium get locked up and are unavailable to crops thus the need to apply lime so as to raise the soil pH,” he states.
The analyst notes that by practicing conservation agriculture through practices that minimize soil disturbance, farmers can ultimately reduce the cost of production and maximize yields thus contributing to food security and economic growth.
Moreover, he notes, farmers need to continuously improve the soil health by increasing the availability of nutrients to crops by using crop residues and avoiding till-planting.
Crop residues help to increase soil organic matter in the long term which in turn can help to release locked up nutrients that will be released and availed for future crops for healthier soils and more productive crops.
By Florence Kinyua