Monthly Archives: October 2016

Dry Farming

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Fields in the Palouse, Washington State

Dryland farming and dry farming are agricultural techniques for non-irrigated cultivation of crops. Dryland farming is associated with drylands; dry farming is often associated with areas characterized by a cool wet season followed by a warm dry season.

Dry farming is not to be confused with rainfed agriculture. Rainfed agriculture refers to crop production that occurs during a rainy season. Dry farming, on the other hand, refers to crop production during a dry season, utilizing the residual moisture in the soil from the rainy season, usually in a region that receives 20” or more of annual rainfall. Dry farming works to conserve soil moisture during long dry periods primarily through a system of tillage, surface protection, and the use of drought-resistant varieties.

Dryland farming locations

Dryland farming is used in the Great Plains, the Palouse plateau of Eastern Washington, and other arid regions of North America such as in the South-western United States and Mexico (see Agriculture in the Southwestern United States and Agriculture in the prehistoric Southwest), the Middle East and in other grain growing regions such as the steppes of Eurasia and Argentina. Dryland farming was introduced to southern Russia and Ukraine by Slavic Mennonites under the influence of Johann Cornies, making the region the breadbasket of Europe. In Australia, it is widely practiced in all states but the Northern Territory.

Dry farmed crops

Dry farmed crops may include grapes, tomatoes, pumpkins, beans, winter wheat, corn, beans, Sunflowers or even watermelon and other summer crops. These crops grow using the winter water stored in the soil, rather than depending on rainfall during the growing season. Dry farming process

Dry farming depends on making the best use of the “bank” of soil moisture that was created by winter rainfall. Dry farming is not a yield maximization strategy; rather it allows nature to dictate the true sustainability of agricultural production in a region. Dry farming as “a soil tillage technique, is the art of working the soil; starting as early as possible when there is a lot of moisture in the soil, working the ground, creating a sponge-like environment so that the water comes from down below, up into the sponge. You press it down with a roller or some other implement to seal the top…so the water can’t evaporate and escape out.” Some dry farming practices include:

  • Wider than normal spacing, to provide a larger bank of moisture for each plant.
  • Controlled Traffic
  • No-till/zero-till or minimum till
  • Strict weed control, to ensure that weeds do not consume soil moisture needed by the cultivated plants.
  • Cultivation of soil to produce a “dust mulch”, thought to prevent the loss of water through capillary action. This practice is controversial, and is not universally advocated.
  • Selection of crops and cultivars suited for dry farming practices.

While dry farming is not for every grower or every region, it is a promising system of crop management that offers greater crop security in times of uncertain water supply and can offer a higher-quality product.

The Role of Research and Development in Agriculture

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Crop Trials Being Carried Out

WHAT IS RESEARCH?

Research can be understood to be a series of Tests, Trials or Experiments. In other words to conduct research implies to inquire systematically about a given situation.

Research is important in the development of technology and implementation of new ideas. Most firms, universities and corporations have Research and Development Departments that steer companies into the future and remain competitive.

In agriculture, research is thought of mainly as trials and these are mainly conducted in the field.

Research can further be broken down into Research Programme and Research Project.  Programme involves many different kinds of research, while a project looks at one specific area.

Research can be categorised into 4 categories:

  • Exploratory – aimed at discovery of new ideas, techniques and machines.
  • Confirmatory – aimed at verifying some past findings based on the protocol that was used in the earlier research.
  • Diagnostic – aimed at identifying the cause of a given problem/or providing solutions.
  • Adaptive/modification – research aimed at changing or modifying the technology to suit a given environment or situation.

THE ROLE OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH

Existing technology and knowledge will not permit the necessary expansions in food production to meet needs. Low-income developing countries such as Zambia are grossly underinvesting in agricultural research compared with industrialized countries such as the USA, even though agriculture accounts for a much larger share of their employment and incomes. Their public sector expenditures on agricultural research are typically less than 0.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product, compared with about two percent in higher-income developing countries and two percent to five percent in industrialized countries.

Investment in agricultural research must be accelerated if developing countries are to assure future food security for their citizens at reasonable prices and without irreversible degradation of the natural resource base. Accelerated investment in agricultural research is particularly important and urgent for low-income developing countries, partly because these countries will not achieve reasonable economic growth, poverty alleviation, and improvements in food security without productivity increases in agriculture, and partly because so little research is currently undertaken in these countries. The negative correlation between investment in agricultural research and a country’s income level is very strong. Poor countries, which depend the most on productivity increases in agriculture, grossly underinvest in agricultural research.

Agricultural research has successfully developed yield-enhancing technology for the majority of crops grown in temperate zones and for several crops grown in the tropics. The dramatic impact of agricultural research and modern technology on wheat and rice yields in Asia and Latin America since the mid-1960s is well known. Less dramatic but significant yield gains have been obtained from research and technological change in other crops, particularly maize.

Large yield gains currently being obtained in many crops at the experimental level offer great promise for future yield and production increases at the farm level. In addition to raising yield levels, research resulting in tolerance or resistance to adverse production factors such as pests and drought, leading to biological and integrated pest control, and to develop improved varieties and hybrids for agroecological zones with less than optimal production conditions reduces risks and uncertainty and enhances sustainability in production through better management of natural resources and reduced environmental risks.

Accelerated agricultural research aimed at more-favoured areas will reduce pressures on fragile lands in less-favoured areas. Future research for the former must pay much more attention to sustainability than in the past to avoid a continuation of extensive waterlogging, salination, and other forms of land degradation. But, a continuation of past low-priority on less-favoured agroecological zones is inappropriate and insufficient to achieve the goals of poverty alleviation, improved food security, and appropriate management of natural resources. More research resources must be dedicated to less-favoured areas, those with agricultural potential, fragile lands, poor rainfall, and high risks of environmental degradation. A large share of the poor and food insecure reside in these agroecological zones.

The low priority given to research to develop appropriate technology for less favoured agroecological zones in the past is a major reason for the current rapid degradation of natural resources and high levels of population growth, poverty, and food insecurity. Much more research must be directed at developing appropriate technology for these areas. Out migration is not a feasible solution for these areas in the foreseeable future simply because of the large numbers of poor people who reside there and the lack of alternative opportunities elsewhere. Strengthening agriculture and related non-agricultural rural enterprises is urgent and must receive high priority.

Following on the tremendous successes popularly referred to as the Green

Revolution, the international agricultural research centres have recognized the importance and urgency of research to assure sustainability in agricultural intensification through appropriate management of natural resources. Thus management of natural resources and conservation and enhancement of germplasm are given high priority in current and future research by the centres.

Declining investment in agricultural research for developing countries since the mid-1980s by both developing-country governments and international foreign assistance agencies is inappropriate and must be reversed. While privatization of agricultural research should be encouraged, much of the agricultural research needed to achieve food security, reduce poverty, and avoid environmental degradation in developing countries is of a public goods nature and will not be undertaken by the private sector. Fortunately, while private rates of return may be insufficient to justify private-sector investment, expected high social rates of returns justify public investment. The major share of such investment should occur in the developing countries’ own research institutions; there is an urgent need to strengthen these institutions to expand research and increase the probability of high payoffs.

Research institutions in the industrialized nations have played an extremely important role by undertaking basic research required to support strategic, adaptive, and applied research by the international centres and developing countries’ own research institutions and by providing training for developing-country researchers. Collaboration among developed country research institutions and developing countries’ own research institutions is widespread, but further strengthening is required to make full use of the comparative advantages of each of the two groups for the ultimate benefit of the poor in developing countries.

All appropriate aspects of science, including molecular biology-based research, must be mobilized to solve poor people’s problems. Almost all of the investment made in genetic engineering and biotechnology for agriculture during the last 10 to 15 years has been focused on solving problems in temperate-zone agriculture such as herbicide resistance in cotton, longer shelf life for perishable products such as tomatoes, and a variety of other problems of importance in the industrialized nations. If we are serious about helping poor people, particularly poor women, and if we are serious about assuring sustainability in the use of natural resources, we must use all appropriate tools at our disposal to achieve these goals, including modern science. For example, modern science may help eliminate losses resulting from drought among small scale farmers. Drought-tolerant varieties of maize that poor farmers can grow could potentially be developed, along with crop varieties with tolerance or resistance to other adverse conditions, including certain insects and pests.

While some argue that it is too risky to use genetic engineering to solve poor people’s problems because we may be unaware of future side effects, we believe that it is unethical to withhold solutions to problems that cause thousands of children to die from hunger and malnutrition. Clearly, we must seek acceptable levels of biosafety before releasing products from modern science, but it is critical that the risks associated with the solutions be weighed against the ethics of not making every effort to solve food and nutrition problems.

Effective partnerships between developing-country research systems, international research institutions, and private and public sector research institutions in industrialized countries should be forged to bring biotechnology to bear on the agricultural problems of developing countries. Incentives should be provided to the private sector to undertake biotechnology research focused on the problems of developing-country farmers. Failure to expand agricultural research significantly in and for developing countries will make food security, poverty, and environmental goals elusive. Lack of foresight today will carry a very high cost for the future. As usual, the weak and powerless will carry the major burden, but just as we must all share the blame for inaction or inappropriate action so will we all suffer the consequences.

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Aquaculture Production in Zambia

Zambia has big potential for fish farming with 37 per cent of its surface area suitable for artisanal and 43 per cent suitable for commercial fish production.

Aquaculture is the rearing of aquatic organisms in an enclosed water body under controlled conditions. Aquatic organisms may be plant life such as phytoplankton, lilies, and other forms of algae or animal life such as fish, crocodiles, oysters etc. Controlled conditions include physio-chemical water parameters (dissolved oxygen, temperature, pH, phosphorous, etc), water level, as well as feed. The basic idea here is to imitate what is prevailing in the natural waters so as to achieve optimum yields.

Aquaculture is in its infant stage of development compared to agriculture. Fish farming in Zambia dates back to the 1950s when the first attempts were made to raise indigenous species of the cichlidae family, mainly tilapias, in dams and earthen fish ponds. A number of donors have subsequently taken an active part in assisting the government to encourage farmers to adopt aquaculture.

Common aquaculture technologies used in Zambia:

  1. Earthen Ponds

This technology involves the use of the sides, bottom, and dykes of a pond to form an ecosystem. Such a system promotes growth of natural food items and so fish benefits extensively from the natural food. Supplementary feed may not be necessary. Production varies depending on management system employed; regardless of pond size. Pond construction and maintenance is relatively cheaper. Examples of species suitable for culture include Oreochromis andersonii or O. niloticus.

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Earthen Pond

  1. Concrete Ponds

Pond walls and bottom are made of concrete. Since the bottom is cemented, no ecosystem is formed and so no natural food production. In this case, formulated feed is what the cultured organisms rely on. It is expensive to construct and maintain; thereby mainly used for production of high value species e.g. carp fish.

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Concrete Pond

  1. Raceways

This is a narrow long body of water. It depends on a continuous flow of water and so limited presence of algae, bacteria, or fungi. Only stubborn algae are scarcely found. Catfish, Tilapia, Carp are among species that can be cultured.

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Raceway

  1. Floating Cages

Cages may be made of planks or steel and are placed in running water- in a natural water body (lake, river, sea). Since space is limited, artificial feed supplement is necessary. To curb environmental degradation, positioning of cages, feed type, and frequency is cardinal. Examples of species cultured in this system include i.e. O. niloticus or O. andersonii.

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Floating Cages

Cage farming is a relatively new practice in Zambia, which has attracted a lot of concern from the Environmental monitoring bodies such as the Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA). Their main concern is regarding the negative impacts that the practice has on the natural water body and its resources. For example,

  • In the event of fish escaping from cages, such escapes may cause harm to the inhabitants and the ecosystem (especially if they are exotic species).
  • Uneaten feeds that find themselves on the river bed would cause water pollution;
  • Cages tend to divert or hamper natural water flow;
  • The site of cages may compromise the beautiful scenery of the water body, affecting tourism;
  • Cages would also affect navigation; etc.

There is therefore need to address such concerns before and during the project execution stage. Constraints and benefits must be compared to ensure that even as the farmer is gaining profits, the environmental damage is not compromised. In this vain, it is a requirement by the Zambian law that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) be carried out before project initiation to determine the possible impacts and propose remedial measures thereof.

  1. Tanks

Strong material such as planks, fibre glass, or plastic is used in construction. May be round, square, or rectangular in shape. Shape and size varies depending on purpose. Usually used for high value and delicate species such as breeders, juveniles, or ornamental fishes. Food is totally artificial and water should be allowed to run through or changed regularly.

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Tanks

  1. Conservation Dams

In most cases, the dam is originally intended for other purposes such as irrigation, livestock drinking, or human consumption. Instead of allowing the dam to serve only that intended purpose, fish may be reared in the same dam. In dams meant for livestock, animals fertilize the water (cow dung for instance), thereby promoting primary productivity, and thus natural food for the fish. Production is relatively low. Harvesting is not easy due to depth, stumps, and rocks. This kind of practice is commonly practiced in Southern and Eastern Province of Zambia. Species cultured mainly Tilapia, catfish.

Species Suitable for Aquaculture in Zambia

The commonly used species for aquaculture include the three spotted tilapia (Oreochromis andersonii), the longfin tilapia (Oreochromis macrochir) and the redbreast tilapia (Tilapia rendalli). The Kafue river strain of the three spotted tilapia is the most commonly farmed species, particularly in the commercial sector. Other species include the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and the red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii).

Challenges facing Aquaculture Production in Zambia

Lack of a national policy to guide aquaculture development, unfriendly investment policies, the absence of linkages between farmers, research/technology development and extension, and unfavourable investment climate. Long-term economic sustainability of Zambian aquaculture will depend on the development and implementation of a national policy that ensures the social and environmental sustainability of the industry.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Future

The entry of Zambian aquaculture into global prominence faces considerable challenges. There are, however, reasons for optimism. Despite high risks and investment costs, high and increasing demand and market value of fish are encouraging. If social and environmental sustainability issues can be successfully addressed, increasing market demand and higher prices should open opportunities for a range of producers and investors. Increasing productivity of both large and small-scale aquaculture will require major investments in research, development and extension as well as policy shifts. The strategies for addressing problems of the small-scale and larger commercial operations will probably be different.

 

Cropping Sytems- Agroforestry

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Trees being used as a Windbreak

Cropping System

A cropping system mainly refers to the way a crop is grown, arrangement in the field and frequency of production. Different cropping systems and practices are used in the production of crops depending on location, preference, skill and financial capacity.

 

Agroforestry

 Agroforestry is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits.

 The foundation of agroforestry is putting trees to work in conservation and production systems for farms, forests, ranches, and communities. Agroforestry begins with placing the right plant, in the right place, for the right purpose.

Agroforestry is a unique land management approach that provides opportunities to integrate productivity and profitability with environmental stewardship, resulting in healthy and sustainable agricultural systems that can be passed on to future generations.

Agroforestry technologies, when used appropriately, help attain sustainable agricultural land-use systems in many ways. Specifically, agroforestry technologies:

  • Provide protection for valuable topsoil, livestock, crops, and wildlife.
  • Increase productivity of agricultural and horticultural crops.
  • Reduce inputs of energy and chemicals.
  • Increase water use efficiency of plants and animals.
  • Improve water quality.
  • Diversify local economies.
  • Enhance biodiversity and landscape diversity.
  • Reconnect agriculture, people, and communities.

Agroforestry technologies ultimately enhance the quality of life for people. Common cropping systems used in agroforestry includes the following:

  1. Field, farmstead, and livestock windbreaks.
  2. Riparian forest buffers along waterways.
  3. Silvopasture systems with trees, livestock, and forages growing together.
  4. Alley cropping or hedge row cropping– a system where dense hedges of multipurpose (usually leguminous) trees are grown in rows between wider strips of annual crops. The hedges are prunned occasionally to provide mulch and organic matter. The main aim in alley cropping is to improve yields by adding nutrients from the organic matter and nitrogen fixation.
  5. Contour vegetation strip- This system is mainly employed on slopes where rows of trees are interspaced with wider strips of crops. The main aim in this system is to control erosion.
  6. Forest farming– where food, herbal (botanicals), and decorative products are grown under the protection of a managed forest canopy.

Disadvantages of Agroforestry

  • Needs some skill to carry out
  • Trees may harbour pests and diseases
  • Trees may compete with crops if not well spaced

There is a significant opportunity to apply agroforestry practices to address challenges such landscape-scale conservation, climate change, clean and abundant water for communities, biomass energy, and sustainable agriculture. Integrated into individual farm operations and watersheds, agroforestry practices can create and enhance certain desirable functions and outcomes essential for sustainability. The effective application of agroforestry requires leadership and teamwork and its partners in both: (1) developing agroforestry science and tools and (2) delivering agroforestry assistance to the owners/managers of working farms, woodlands, ranches, and communities. Both are essential if we are to realize the many benefits of this unique approach to land management.

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Pros and Cons of Organic Farming

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Some of the Crops Grown Organically at a Farmers Market in Munich

What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is a technique used in farming without the use of any chemicals or synthetics. Its aim is to produce crops which have the highest nutritional values with least impact on nature. Crop rotation, green manure, use of natural fertilizers and biological pest control form the crux of organic farming. It is a proactive ecology management strategy. This strategy enhances the fertility of the soil, prevents soil erosion and at the same time protects the humans and animal kingdom from the side-effects of chemicals and synthetics. Many of the farm products, like, vegetables, fruit, herbs, meat, milk, eggs, etc. are produced organically by some farmers.

“Organic” as defined by law, implies quality assurance. The words “natural” and “eco-friendly” mean that organic farming techniques might have been used, but it does not necessarily mean completely following organic techniques.

Pros and Cons of Organic Farming
Like everything else, organic farming also has its pros and cons…
The most important of the advantages of organic farming is that it maintains the life of the soil, not only for the current generation, but also for the future generations. Water pollution is reduced with organic farming. Most of the time after it rains, the water from the fields, which contains chemicals, gets drained into the rivers. This pollutes the water bodies. In organic farming, since no chemicals or synthetics are used, water pollution reduces as well.

Organic farming helps in building richer soil. Rich soil is obtained by intelligently rotating crops. The rich soil helps in plant growth. The rate of soil erosion is reduced drastically. A French study has revealed that the nutritional quality and micro-nutrients are present in higher quantities in organically produced crops. The micro-nutrients promote good health. Organically grown food tastes better too. The overall cost of cultivating the crops reduces as the farmers use green manure or worm farming to replenish the lost nutrients of the soil. The other option that the farmers use, is to grow legumes in rotation with other crops. The life of organically grown plants is longer than the plants cultivated by traditional methods. Organically grown crops are more drought tolerant. The chemical fertilizers cause the plant to ripen fast. When the crop does not get water it withers and dies, which is not the case with organic crops.

Along with the pros, there are certain cons too. The first disadvantage is low productivity. With the highly developed chemicals and machinery, the farmer is able to multiply his harvest manifold times. The organic farmers use the cultivation method as opposed to drilling method used by the traditional farmers. The cultivated soil is prone to wind and water erosion. The traditional farmers opine that direct drilling does not cause any disharmony in the soil structure. The next argument is that the organically produced food is expensive. The cost is very often 50-100 percent more than the traditional food. The other valid argument is that organic food is not always available. There is a reason behind that. The organic farmers grow crops in accordance to the season. Neither do they artificially grow any crop nor do they extend the life of the plant or use chemicals, synthetics or pesticides. Therefore, oranges will be found only in winter and mangoes only in summer. Looking at it from the health benefits point of view, there is no doubt that you will benefit if you eat a particular food item, when it is actually in season.

After weighing the pros and cons of organic farming, it is noticed that the pros outweigh the cons. It is therefore best to consume organically grown food, although it is expensive.

What Constitute a Vegetable, Herb or Fruit?

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We have all come across these terms. And frankly speaking, they can be confusing. For example, the tomato can sometimes be considered a bit of both fruit and vegetable and some books consider a banana herb and not a fruit. But is there a clear cut definition?

Botanically speaking, anything that bears a seed or is a seed is considered a fruit. There are different kinds of fruit, i.e. nuts are a kind of fruit.  Vegetables are any part of the plant that doesn’t have to do with making new plants. Lettuce is a leaf, carrot is a root, and celery is a stem.  I think I heard a story of how the legal definition of a fruit vs. veggie was established as a way of avoiding taxes or tariffs or something.

Technically, a tomato is a berry.  Just for further enjoyment, an apple is a fluid-filled hypanthium.  🙂 The particular item you are discussing will determine the specific best term to describe it. Generally you can safely call the product of fertilization a “fruit”.  (In the supermarket we routinely call the structure bearing fruits “fruit”). Generally fruits will germinate into plants which will again flower, offering another opportunity for fertilization. (Note that bananas we find in the store bear tiny almost-remnants of seeds which will not germinate…in the wild, banana “fruits” have seeds (fruits, being the products of fertilization) which are much larger which will germinate).  If one discusses a part of a plant which is not the direct product of fertilization or the structure bearing it, then one could safely call the item an herb.  For example, basil leaves are vegetative structures not specifically the result of fertilization and are most easily described as herbs. We do not have an adequate definition for ‘vegetable’, but our feeling for its routine meaning is any part of a plant consumed whether a stem (celery), a leaf (lettuce), a root or tuber (radish, or potato, respectively), and in some cases the fruit of fertilization or structures bearing them (cucumbers, yes-tomatoes).  Added to this are items such as mushrooms (basidiocarps of fungi) and you get the idea….the term vegetable has come to mean almost anything which is not animal or mineral which we find in the ‘produce’ section of the supermarket.  Thus, the term vegetable has somewhat lost a botanical usefulness in that there are more specific terms to use depending on the particular structure being discussed. Note that there are specific botanical definitions for berries which can be found in any good plant classification text; you can see this is essential, for example, in distinguishing between raspberries, blueberries, and tomatoes (also berries). We hope this shed some light on the challenge of plant classification and gives some insight as to why scientific names were established to pin down a particular organism to prevent confusion with many common names or possibly similar terms for different organisms.

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