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Make your crop farm resilient during rains

By George Mbakaya

We are in a season of rains after rains and with it comes challenges to crop farmers. And this may go on for a while according to the Weatherman reports. Already there have been reports about mud-slides and flooding in some parts. Farming has also been affected by the pounding rains. Though water is necessary for almost every function of plant growth, too much water reduces the amount of oxygen in the soil, resulting in root loss or injury.

Too much rains can also make the plant more susceptible to fungal diseases. In addition, heavy rains can damage plants, compact soil and cause erosion. Additionally, with too much rain plants’ cells become puffed-up with water, reducing flavour and even splitting fruits like tomatoes, citrus, and melons, which can lead to total crop loss.

When it’s raining for extended periods, there is limited exposure to sun and plants can’t photosynthesise to put energy into balanced growth. If farmers don’t have well covered soil, large amounts of top soil can be eroded and fertilisers washed out of their soil, contaminating aquifers, rivers, oceans and other bodies of water. Heavy rains can damage tender plants. When combined with our warm summer temperatures, too much rain creates an ideal environment for bacterial and fungal problems. So how do you cope as a crop farmer during seasons of heavy rains?

The dos and don’ts

Injured or dead plant parts should be pruned immediately after a storm to allow the plant to recover.

To cope with heavy rains, plant crops on ridges and on higher ground to ward off some of the rainwater, even though high ground makes up only a small percent of the total acreage used for farming.

To prevent soil erosion and for soil conservation, plant cover crops. Cover crops also help to capture and hold nutrients in the soil instead of letting them of the stream. Essentially, this means you always have nutrients in the soil, because the roots of these plants take the nutrients up and turn them into plant material and this gets cycled back into the soil.

To cope, also monitor your plants for signs of disease spots or other discolouration on foliage and rotting or wilting of stems, fruit, or even the whole plant. Black spot on roses and powdery mildew on a wide range of plants can become a problem after weeks of rain. Scout potatoes carefully for late blight, beginning at emergence. Check leaves and stems.

If symptoms are found, destroy infected plants by removing them from the field and apply appropriate fungicides to the remaining crop immediately.

Managing the soils

If the soil is heavy with water after heavy rain and you’re worried about root rot, dry the soil by removing the mulch from around the crop for a few weeks.

Avoid walking on wet crop field as this increases compaction and can hurt plant roots. Keep fallen leaves and other debris clear to avoid spreading diseases. Make sure plants are dry before pruning, as disease can spread easily in water. Fertiliser lost to excess soil moisture can be replenished using several ways.

Often a combination of methods is best. Fertiliser may be applied by side-dressing or nutrients may be foliar-applied alone or in combination with crop protectants.

This approach is best suited for nitrogen and some micronutrients but can be expected to deliver only a minor portion of total crop nutrient needs.

[The writer is an expert on sustainable agriculture and agricultural solutions]

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