Basic Agricultural Practices And Steps For Growing Of Crops
Generally all farmers anywhere would consider aspects like what crop to sow, method of tillage, fertilization program, market and price for the produce etc. before embarking on any crop produce. These considerations are fairly common – may be one or the other aspects would be already settled; for example one wishes to grow wheat and, therefore, no need to dwell on that aspect, but there would still remain the other aspects.
All successful farmers are successful because they planned out every move beforehand.
Let us make a list of some such considerations:
- Crop – what we are going to grow. This would also include the seed selection, quantity required, preparation of seed for sowing, etc.
- Land Preparation – type of land, state of land, properties of land, any modifications or augmentation to fertility of land required, etc. before we start on this activity.
- Method of land preparation.
- Sowing of seed in the prepared land and the methods of sowing farmer would require to adopt.
- Irrigation and fertilization – availability, timing, quantum.
- Maintenance at different stages of crop growth – defense against onset of any pests, virus.
- Harvesting – again methods of harvesting, labor, machine hours and stocking of produce to marketing of same.
When deciding about the crop to be grown, and it could be grains, millet, fruits, flowers etc., the farmer should consider the total revenue model. What crop at that time of sowing would give him the best market price when harvested? What is the potential market demand for this crop? Is the crop suitable for the climate and land? What fertilizers would be required, quantities of such fertilizers and application timings. Has he the required infrastructure for irrigation or it has to be created and if so at what cost. How much can be grown on his land and what would be the average expected yield. Does the potential irrigation requirement fulfillment capacity exist? Availability of Disease resistant seeds and control methods for diseases and pests. What land preparation is required for this crop to be sown? Farmer would be well advised to consult the weather conditions and forecasts. How the harvest would be made, stored and marketed. There would be several other considerations also.
The above sounds daunting, but over a period of time with experience gained first hand or through consulting with government agriculture services and the ever present internet, such knowledge is readily available.
The difficult part – what crop farmer wants to grow, remains his choice. The rest considerations follow.
After we have selected our crop, now is the time to prepare the land suitable for this crop. The idea always being that we should produce good land for our crop at minimum cost and time. Therefore let us first consider a brief theory on land preparation and land preparation methods.
Land preparation or call it cultivation and crop growing are to be considered as one entity. Good land preparation enables good crops. Since mankind discovered agriculture, farmers have been carrying out land preparation. The basic has always been to break the earth for the depth required by a particular seed to establish itself.
Presently, almost everywhere in the world, farmers employ powered mechanical means e.g. tractors for tilling operations, though manual and animal tillage is also practiced in some parts due to local conditions. The tractors themselves come in different shapes and sizes.
Method of land preparation – Tillage Practices:
Ploughing – this is first pass of the tractor or manual effort over the soil so as to cut, break and invert the soil. Organic manures and full dose of phosphates are mixed with soil at this stage.
Harrowing – is the second step in tillage done to a shallow depth for smoothing and pulverizing the soil. Here weeds would be drawn out of soil and also mix fertilizers with the soil. This step would also bring soil moisture up.
Leveling is the third step for improvement in value of land and to make arrangement for application of water, uniform moisture over the soil, etc.
A question arises what sort of tillage is required by the crop. Is it deep tillage, a shallow tillage, tillage with earlier crop residue still in the earth?
Tillage is required to be done as it:
- Gives a roll over to land and thus makes it softer for seeding of crops. Soil becomes less compacted and this will allow better rooting.
- Allows sun rays and air to the ground which makes soil healthier and also some virus is killed.
- Uproot all weeds and old crop residues.
- Irrigation water can easily go deeper.
- Leveling and planning of the land.
Tillage is costly and more so if done manually.
There are alternatives to full conservative tillage procedure. And it depends on the farmer, the crop, the land and cost of resources. The alternatives are minimum tillage and zero tillage.
Here only one pass of the tillage is done and residue etc. is left on the soil. The seeding is done through this mulch of residue. The benefit of mulch is greater water retention and it acts as a weedicide also.
Conservation with Zero or no tillage:
Here only a narrow furrow wide and deep enough for seeds to be sown is made and the rest of the land is left as it is. There is permanent layer of mulch from crop residue and organic manures or green crops on the surface of the earth. The motto here is to have optimum production with sustainable growth. Mulch cover provides many benefits to the ground surface like it will prevent compaction of the soil, decrease virus and diseases of the plants, and not allow weeds to grow. The cost of land preparation is much less than in conventional tillage. Best benefit is that there is no burning of the crop residue which is highly detrimental to the environment and also harms the soil content as well friendly bacteria in the field.
In time this practice creates an Eco-system of its own so that diseases and pests are minimized. This conservation tillage also allows combining the seeding and fertilizer placing process so less seed, less fertilizer, less time, less cost, less labor is realizable.
However, as stressed above, farmer needs to assess the particular tilling method depending on his own circumstances.
Planting of seeds:
- Use of good quality seeds is of essence.
- Treat with chemicals so as to assist in easy germination.
- Moisture in land tilled by any method is a must; also compaction of the earth around seed ensures seed gets the required moisture.
- Seeding must be done evenly and to the required density for that particular crop. Over seeding does not produce a good crop. Zero and conservative tillage require the least seeds.
- Weed control is to be done to prevent the weeds getting into the fertilizer and water meant for seeds. Weed control chemicals need to be applied soon after seeding of the crop.
- Application of DAP di-ammonium-phosphate just below the seed is to be done. Other fertilizer like urea and some potassium should also be spread beforehand and watered.
- Another method of weed control using zero tilling and/or conservation tilling is to first make a false furrow in the ground. This will make weeds grow. Now apply chemicals to kill weeds. After this re-furrow and plant seeds.
Crop growth and fertilization:
After the seeds have sprouted, monitoring is needed of the moisture content in the soil so as to prevent any water stress in the plants. Once water stressed, plants become highly unproductive. Fertilizers need to be applied as per the need of the crop. A good rule is to apply urea in three equal parts i.e. in the beginning of seeding and twice thereafter after the crop is growing. Phosphates are given once in the beginning. Potash may be required at later stages. Farmer would need to consult the advisory on crop basis.
Harvesting, Storage and Marketing:
It is the end of the labors of the farmer and to realize the worth of his crop. Mechanical and manual methods to harvest are utilized depending on the resources at the command of the farmer and from country to country and place to place. Marketing is normally done through a central government or private agency.