The general field activities and operations to be carried out in crop production includes but not limited to the following practices;
Land preparation presupposes that land is available. Therefore the first major step is land acquisition. It must be mentioned right from the onset that crops have different types of soil requirements.
However, the ecology of any particular area determines the types of forest ecology and the types of land/soil that will be available.
For instance, Lagos is located near the Atlantic Ocean where the rainfall is high for a substantial part of the year. Besides, the land available is within the lagoon creeks where the water table is high for most of the year.
In other words; the land is water- logged and swampy all the year round. Thus the mangrove terrain has its peculiarities in terms of the land and the types of crops that can grow therein. To grow or cultivate any crops you need to acquire land.
Land can be acquired through the following processes:
- Outright gift;
- Land lease;
- Payment of rent;
- Shared crops;
- Rent and shared crops;
Once the land is acquired, the next is to prepare it for the crops to be grown. Each crop has its own peculiarity in terms of preparation.
Besides, the type of preparation you give to the land depends on the state of the land on acquisition. Is the land a virgin forest, or derived forest or a savannah or a water-logged land, hillside, or valley? Is the soil virgin soil or derived soil?
The types of preparation depend on the answers to the above identified issues. If you desire to plant tree crops or forest trees on a fairly large scale (plantation farming), definitely, you need a large expanse of forest land.
All the activities that you undertake right from the acquisition of the land to the stage where you start to plant your crops into the soil are altogether called pre-planting operations or land preparation activities.
All land preparation activities can be performed with the help of energy saving devices of different levels of technology – varying from simple farm tools as cutlass, hoe and axe to and through advanced technology equipment as caterpillars and bulldozers.
Land Clearing / Under-brushing
This is essentially the removal of vegetative cover from a particular parcel of land. If the land is a thick virgin forest, you may need to underbrush the shrubs, and climbers and the under growths as a first stage.
The second stage may include cutting and felling of trees and then stumping. Depending on the available tools/equipment, the operations can be done in phases or combined together in a single phase when the farmer decides to employ a bulldozer to do stumping, felling and clearing in a single operation.
When the land is meant for the cultivation of tree crops, complete clearing is definitely undesirable. Partial or selected felling is always preferred.
Stumping: This is the removal of big trees and their stems and roots from the cleared site. It is often better to remove a big tree through uprooting the tree. Once the major roots are cut, the whole shoot becomes unstable and thus, easily falls.
It is often not desirable to fell the trees by cutting the trunk and then embark on stumping. Once the whole trees fall, they can be cross-cut into legs which can be rolled off the centre of the farm to the boundaries or ends of the farm.
It is not desirable to burn big logs in the farm site. Such practices of burning thrashes on farmland lead to soil-nutrition management problems later.
Packing of Thrash/Debris: The small shrubs, twigs, undergrowth and climbers should be packed off the farm site. The leaves should be allowed to rot and decay on the soil. Little or no burning should be encouraged.
Layout and Lining
After you cleared the site, the next operation is dividing the site into blocks—a process known as “blocking”. This is a process by which the plantation site is divided into convenient sizes.
Each block should be 5-10 hactares depending on the size of the plantation. The blocks are separated from one another by 4metre wide farm roads. The shape of each block should be rectangular or square.
Once the blocks are put in place, the next activity is the lining of the blocks to identify the particular location of individual crop plant in the plantation. The materials required for this operation are land survey equipment—ranging poles, tape, measurement chains, compass, pegs, and stakes
A baseline is adopted at one side of the block in which the planting sites are to be marked. Along the baseline, the various sites are marked at the appropriate distances required for the crop to be planted.
All planting sites, once located are marked with wooden pegs pending the preparation of the planting hole. Common dimension of planting hole is 60cm by 60cm by 60cm. During digging, the top-soil is preserved on one sideof the planting hole and the subsoil on the other side.
Once the required depth of 60cm has been reached, the subsoil at the base of the hole is loosened. Good topsoil is used in t e planting of the seedling that will eventually be planted into the dug up planting hole.
Post Planting Maintenance Operations
Post planting operations performed in permanent crop production include: weeding and weed management, pests and pest management, disease control and management, water and soil nutrient management, shade management and in some cases, pruning.
Weeding and weed management. During the early years of the young tree crop, attempts must be made to ring-weed each plant crop.
Shade trees can be planted. Besides, selective shade -tree elimination can also be practiced e.g. plantains, bananas, glyricidia.
Inter-cropping with some selected farm crops can also be practiced. Cover crops should be incorporated early in the life of the plantation. Integrated weed management is the best form of control.
Pests and Disease Management: Pests and diseases abound in the tropics. The prevalence of any particular disease and/or pest depends on the nature of the crops and the sanitation practiced on the farm.
Breeds and progenies that are resistant to certain diseases are available in each crop type. Preventive control measures are best in crop management.
Water and soil nutrient management: Though the products harvested from each crop differ, all the crops need water and nutrients to manufacture the produce. Therefore the need for efficient management of water and minerals derivable from the soil cannot be stressed enough.
Besides, the need to replace nutrient uptake from the soil cannot be over emphasized. Nutrients as Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnessiun, Sodium, and trace elements need to be supplied to the soil at regular intervals to boost the supply to the crops.
Other operations include harvesting and partial processing at the field/plantation levels.
These operations will be extensively discussed under each permanent crop that will be treated in this course.
In summary, this article has discussed the basic operations that are common to tree crop production. It cannot be overemphasized that crops that develop into big trees start from small seeds.
These small seeds are grown in nurseries and sometimes from pre-nurseries for upwards of 8-24 months before they can be transferred to the field/plantation site.
The performance of the plantation crops depend heavily on the care and type of planting stock selected into the nursery and the management given these stocks early in life.
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