TOBACCO seed sales in the year to date have dropped 64 percent compared to the same period last year and this may lead to reduced crop size in the 2016/17 season. Seed sale statistics released by the Tobacco Research Board show that until May 27, 97 495kg of seed had been moved compared to 305 200kg moved last year.This is mainly because tobacco from the 2015/16 season over-stayed in the lands, however, large scale growers are buying as normal.
As a result, some farmers were not ready for the 2016/2017 season which started on June 1 2106.
TRB general manager Dr Dahlia Garwe said however seed sales may pick as the season progresses.
“The season is running late so farmers are still chasing issues from the last season. For example some farmers still have tobacco in the barns as we speak and clearly, farmers in this situation would be more concerned about baling and selling as quickly as possible,” said Dr Garwe.
Seed sales may also have been affected by the cash challenges currently bedeviling Zimbabwe.
A parliamentary committee on Lands, Agriculture, Mechanisation and irrigation heard last month that some banks were offering farmers maximum withdrawal limits of $500 instead of the $10 000 per day set by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
The RBZ has elevated tobacco farmers to corporate status to allow them to access more cash just like corporates.
“Because the season was so long, there are also cash flow issues. Farmers have run out of money so they need to sell as quickly as possible so they can get some money into their pockets in order to pay wages and also start preparations for the next season. For some, the purchase of inputs for the next season, including seed, therefore needs to be postponed until cash flow improves.
“However, we believe sales will recover as the season progresses. Tobacco still remains a good crop to grow with excellent returns per hectare. Large scale growers who are putting in an irrigated crop are actively buying seed though,” Dr Garwe said.
She said the late start to the season may see a decline in crop size in the 2016/17 season.
“We are likely to see a slightly reduced crop size if sales do not recover as we anticipate. As every good tobacco grower knows, early planting significantly boosts yields and the later the planting, the less likely it is to get good yields in a normal season,” she said.
Dr Garwe said the slowdown in seed sales taken together with the reduction of registered growers could mean a smaller crop. Also, the fact that tobacco over-stayed in the lands may lead to diseases and the board is warning farmers to be on the lookout.
“We have issued a “dear grower” letter to tobacco farmers to be on the lookout for diseases due to the fact that stalk destruction was very late and in fact, has not been done on a number of farms,” said Dr Garwe. The 2015/16 tobacco season was characterised by a late onset of the rains and prolonged dry spells. This resulted in slow plant growth rates and thus most crops ended up overstaying in the fields. This means that an adequately long dead period to ensure a break in the life cycle of the tobacco aphid (before the legislated sowing date of 1 June) may not be possible in some tobacco growing areas. These tobacco plants that will stay in the field past the stalk destruction date will no doubt serve as reservoirs for the tobacco aphid and the diseases they transmit, thus exposing crops in the new season to infestation and virus disease infection,” Dr Garwe said in correspondence to farmers dated May 23.
To minimize infection and proliferation of aphids and virus disease in the new season growers were advised to be proactive and take precautions which include ensuring the seedlings are protected as early as possible from the time of germination, among other measures.
“This can be done by using aphicide treated seed or by using preventative insecticides such Thiamethoxam at sowing. Thiamethoxam will give protection up to eight weeks after sowing. Thereafter, insecticides such as Thiacloprid and Dimethoate can be used for the follow up sprays. Growers must ensure regular scouting of seedlings and spraying as necessary and must rotate chemicals to prevent development of resistance,” she said.