Organic fertilizers have many benefits to your crops

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It is time for planting again and farmers are struggling to buy inputs for use in planting maize, beans and other crops. Apart from seeds, the other most important input is fertilizer. Of course, many farmers planting maize will buy Diammonium Phosphate (DAP).

But, chemical fertilizers will not help much.

At least many farmers have noted that even after using chemical fertilizers, the crop yield in their farms have reduced over the years. The major reason for this is the continued use of chemical fertilizers, which have depleted their soils. Fertilizers such as DAP, Urea and CAN tend to lower the soil pH, which causes acidity and leaching of essential nutrients from the soil; any crop planted in such soil cannot do well. The best solution for farmers in such situations is to switch to organic fertilizers.

Organic fertilizers have many benefits for the soil. Unlike chemical fertilizers, organic fertilizers reduce acidity in the soil and do not cause leaching. They do not kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Organic fertilizers also help improve the structure of the soil including the circulation of air, which sustains beneficial microorganisms that help release nutrients to the soil. The major nutrient that crops such as maize require is nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Apart from these, growing crops also require micro-nutrients such as copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe), calcium (Ca) and sulphur (S).

Natural fertilizers have immense benefits for the soil and crop production. They add soil organic matter, improve soil structure and preserve essential nutrients that crops need in order to grow well.

The most important step farmers can take is to ensure that any organic fertilizer they use has these nutrients in sufficient quantities in order to provide their crops with adequate nutrients for each of them. Below are some of the organic fertilizers that farmers can buy in place of chemical fertilizers to restore soil fertility and get good crop yields and income.

How much fertilizer to use when planting

All farmers mix chemical fertilizers with maize seed when planting. The conventional thinking is that the germinating seed will use the nutrients in the fertilizer to grow well and vigorously. But this is not the case; every seed at germination utilizes the nutrients stored within itself during the first 7 days.

After this period the seed will have exhausted all its reserves of stored nutrients and it will therefore require supplementation of nutrients through fertilizers. By planting maize seed together with fertilizers, farmers hope that the seed will use the fertilizer after it has exhausted its reserves of nutrients. What exactly happens is exactly the opposite of what the farmers expect- when you apply chemical fertilizers such as DAP when planting, they can have two effects- The fertilizer is acidic in nature so it burns the seeds, therefore no germination will take place. If it is raining heavily, the fertility causes the leaching of essential nutrients such calcium, potassium and magnesium.

Back to the issue of the germinating seed, farmers do not need to plant their maize with chemical fertilizers. Ccurrently there is new technology that involves dressing the seed with organic fertilizers that are well balanced in terms of nutrients. After dressing, the farmers can plant and wait until the maize has germinated; they can then spray their crop with the same organic fertilizers (see table below), which are relatively cheaper in comparison to chemical fertilizers. The maize yield will be the same or even better than that planted using chemical fertilizers.

Important maize planting tips

• Before, planting buy seed that is suitable to your area. Seeds are developed specifically for particular areas; if farmers, uses seed that is not recommended for their areas, they will encounter problems with their maize due to rotting, diseases or even low yields.

• Always plant early, maize that is planted early has an advantage over that which is planted late. Early planting will reduce incidence of diseases such as MLN and even crop vigour.

• Farmers should only buy varieties that they know or understand very well. Never plant a new variety in the whole shamba; isolate a section of the farm and plant any new variety, observe its performance and only use it if it does well in terms of yield, disease resistance, weight and other parameters such as taste etc.

• Always buy seed from recognized agrovet shops. All genuine seeds have company labels with a Kenya Plant Health Inspection Service tags showing lot number and other details. Some agrovet shops stock fake seed obtained from commercial maize.

• Aways practise crop rotation to reduce chances of diseases. Divide your farm into blocks and rotate crops from different plant families such as, beans, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes in order to avoid diseases such as the Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN).

>> Share your experiences with TOF and fellow farmers. Send email to [email protected],  leave a comment below this article or SMS to 0715 916 136.

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