The first rainy season has started and most farmers in the country growing various types of crops are planting.
Farmers engaged in maize growing are not exceptional and it is important for them to follow the right agronomy practices in order to realize bumper harvest.
Maize production has improved in Uganda with the adoption of improved technologies by farmers.
These technologies include use of improved hybrid seeds and open pollinated varieties, timely planting, proper spacing, timely weeding and harvesting using improved tools.
The director of the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI), Dr Godfrey Asea, who is a seasoned maize breeder explains the best agronomy practices farmers growing maize across the country should adopt to realise high yields.
The first step towards obtaining good maize harvest is ensuring that the farm is well-ploughed and ready for planting. Ploughing should go a depth of at least 20cm and should be conducted two to three weeks before the onset of the rains.
After preparing the land, the farmer should then plan for the planting process by budgeting for and acquiring inputs such as fertiliser and seeds.
He advises farmers to always engage in timely land preparations before the rain season starts for timely planting.
The major rain season in the month of March is mainly for areas along Lake Victoria basin, eastern Uganda, mid-western and the Southern part of the country where planting sust be done before the end of March.
Other areas mainly in the northern region experience major rains in the month of July and it is a major season for farmers growing the crop.
Farmers who use equipment such as planters are encouraged to plant when the soil is slightly dry to avoid clogging of the planter to the soil and a fine seed bed is required.
“Maize requires a well prepared field. Soils must be deep, fertile and well drained,” Asea advises.
There is need to observe optimal plant population in the entire farm, meaning the required spacing is 37cm by 35cm. Alternatively 75cm by 25cm is equally good. A farmer needs 25 kilogrammes of maize seed per hectare and 10 kilogrammes per acre.
Usually two seeds per hole is required and once the plant has grown, farm
ers are expected to remove weaker plants and leave one strong plant per hole. It is important to plant in rows for easy weeding.
There are farmers who prefer 36cm by 59cm spacing. Usually the size of maize cob is big enough but a farmer will harvest fewer yields per acre.
Maize varieties available
It is important for farmers to purchase quality seed and this can be done by consulting zonal research institutes which are spread throughout the country as well as seed companies dealing in sale of the maize varieties.
The recommended maize seed include hybrid Longe series namely; Longe 9H, 10H, Bazooka varieties UH5051, UH5052 and UH5053.
Farmers who are mindful of drought stricken conditions are encouraged to use the eight drought Tego varieties which have since been released for use. They include WE1101, WE2101, WE2103, WE2106, WE2115, WE2114, WE3106 and WE3109. They were bred under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (wema) breeding project.
The wema series are drought and disease tolerant. They are popular across the country but more prominently used by farmers in Kasese District who are prone to drought conditions.
All the maize varieties according to Dr Asea are hybrid varieties suitable for mid altitude environment ranging from 800 – 1600 metres above sea level.
Farmers growing maize in highland areas such as Kapchorwa are recommended to use maize varieties bred from Kenya namely H614 and H628.
Broad spectrum herbicides’ such as roundup could also be used before ploughing the field during land preparation to control perennial weeds and to generally control weeds in young plants.
However farmers can engage in manual weeding two or three times. The first weeding is expected to be done two weeks from date of planting. The next is after one month depending on the weed situation. Some farmers prefer chemical spray to minimize labour.
Dr Asea recommends farmers to purchase these chemicals from Crop Care. They are Maize plus and Lumax.
Farmers are highly encouraged to purchase and apply the required fertilisers in order to realise good yield through maintaining the soil fertility.
The recommended fertiliser types include Di ammonium phosphate (DAP) which must be applied one bottle top per hole. Farmers are required to apply 94 kilogrammes per hectare and 34 kilogrammes per acre.
Urea can be applied when the plants are one month old and at the time of flowering.
It should be applied too close to the stalk. Farmers who can afford use of drip irrigation can dilute the fertiliser and apply using this technology.
Others applicable fertiliser types are Calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) and NPK which comprises Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium.
It is important for farmers to test the soil using mobile soil kits or take soil sample to National Crop Resources Research Laboratories for testing to establish the fertility rate.
The recommended soil type for maize growing is loam sand soil, clay loam and pure loam soil.
A farmer who observes best practices will be in position to harvest 7 tonnes of maize per hectare.
Pest and disease burden
The head of the cereal programme at NaCRRI Dr Micheal Otim, explains the various diseases which are currently a burden to farmers leading to yield loss.
The major diseases are maize streak virus which causes yellowing of maize leaves leading to stunted growth.
The other is maize lethal necrosis which causes stunting and complete destruction of the plant.
The pests include fall army worm and maize stalk borer which are capable of causing destruction of 100 per cent yield loss.
Farmers are advised to spray the plant with recommended appropriate chemicals.
For the case of diseased plants, farmers are expected to carry out routine checking in their farms, uproot and destroy infected plants.
Maize is one of the major staple foods in Uganda. Its production has increased over the years as people change their consumption trends. It has evolved from a purely subsistence to a successful commercial crop.
Processed maize flour in Uganda is sold mainly for food in schools, relief to World Food Programme (WFP) and as export to neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan.
In as far as Uganda’s weather is concerned farmers can grow the crop in most parts of the country although it is commonly grown in the districts of Kapchorwa, Iganga, Masindi, Mbale, Mubende, Kasese, Kamuli, Jinja and Kabarole.
Nutritionally, maize is very nutritious as a starchy food. It also has an appreciable level of protein which has higher levels of essential amino acids.