Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A new birth on the land

December 26th saw the birth of a male calf, to the heifer I took in my pick up from Godagama a few years back. Females are desired for future milk. He looks the spitting image of his dad, who was also taken from Godagama, and was the first calf born since my return to SL at the end of 2004, and a few days before the Tsunami. As the father could not be called Tsunami, the son can and maybe one day the father and son could used to pull a cart to take people around the farm!
One must realize that the male calves have no other future than ending up at some stage at the hands of a butcher’s knife. However pious people try and prevent animal slaughter, but money creeps in and meat is the result. The male I brought to Polonnaruwa has so far avoided the fate because the Friesen look that he has, which is black and white has involved him in being used to impregnate the local heifers. I have not made any charge for that service as I am sure he has calmed down as he feels his needs are met often. As bulls are hard to control, their noses are often pierced and a rope is put through which is used to control them.
The birth was in heavy rain, and the special hut prepared for them, was abandoned due to the rain even seeping in there. It is important that we take the excess milk after the calf has had its share, as these special types are bred for milk and it is important that this milk is extracted as otherwise the output will fall with future pregnancies.
The problem now is with the excessive rain it has been difficult to find grass to feed them, and all the available land is cultivated with rice paddies. In an ideal scenario, the grass would be cut and taken to a cattle shed where the steer manure can be collected in one place to be used to make compost. To be fair for a farmer the ability to make maximum use of the manure is just as, if not more important than the milk. The high yielding grasses unfortunately don’t grow here.
One problem has been to isolate the animals in one place. The coconut seedlings and other vegetation doesn’t get unnecessarily eaten up in the process. It is a perennial problem of farmers that stray cattle destroy other people’s crops as they are not properly tied up. I have lost many a coconut plant to cattle, as the people responsible for taking care of them have been derelict in not controlling their movement. With an organized plan to isolate the areas of their habitation, I hope to be able to increase the herd and also provide the basic raw material for compost which will be an essential ingredient in the growth of crops in a future with no subsidized fertilizer. It is important that we start now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"we are still transplanting by hand" where are the alternatives?

We sowed one set of paddy fields on Poya, December 1st, and within minutes of sowing the rains came after a lapse of 11 days without rain. What it did was to move the sown seedlings in some areas either to wash away with the water, or displace them. Fortunately we took the precaution of also sowing a nursery for this eventuality.

Therefore on December 20th two of the local women came to transplant the empty patches. They first remove the nursery plants into bunches and get that ready. That is what is being done in the photos here taken on that day. They then transplant this into fields where there is heavy wash off of seedlings. Once that is done, they transplant the balance into lighter areas where there are few plants. There are also places where due to the rain areas near the drainage points of fields have a thicker density of plants due to the run-off. Here the paddy plants need to be thinned and excess plants planted in areas of less density.

It should also be noted that it is easier to replant if the fields are sodden, as fingers are used to press the plant into the soil in transplanting and is obviously harder to do this when the surface is hard.

These women get a daily wage of Rs600, we provide morning tea with a bun and afternoon tea. They go home for lunch. The working hours are from 8am to 5pm with an hour for lunch and two 15 minute tea breaks during the day. The unfortunate thing is that this labor is scarce, and so the work is not on productivity basis, and the rate is the same whether worker is twice as fast or twice as slow!! As this is a day or two's work, it cannot be incentive based like a contract to transplant an area.

Further they are not reliable, as they did not come the following day, but came on the day after that. This means it is difficult to rely on expediting the work. So machines your time is now so we can rely less on an increasingly more unproductive workforce who believe they are doing us a favor in an ever increasing wage scenario.

The sooner we can replace manual labor the lower will be our costs of production.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

timing of the rain has once again been unkind

Despite the best laid plans, there are so many variables in agriculture that are beyond one's control that until the harvest is in, one cannot predict if one would get a harvest at all. All it takes are a few unforeseen events to put a spanner in the works just like in the last few days when the skies literally opened and buckets of water poured into already saturated fields where only runoff was the order of the day and with it top soil, and some of the fertilizer application with it.

Some of my neighbors were even far worse off than me, where due to the heavy rains the sowed seed has been washed off and they have to sow again, incurring further expense and in addition getting the fields repaired by reinforcing the boundaries.

It also meant that the application of the preemergent weedicides had to be delayed and now a different product will have to be sprayed as the product I had in hand had to be applied within 48hours of sowing. As stated in a previous blog this costs more than the fertilizer subsidy and having to rethink the replacement makes an already expensive task even more so.

A larger producer would have a greater window on which he performs his planting and therefore only a section of his cultivation would be affected as the harm to different stages in the growing process is less, the earlier the planting. They are therefore able to average out such costs unlike the small producer who suffers the loss on his complete unit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

just finished sowing my paddy fields

I wondered if I would ever be able to do the impossible given the last minute snags I encountered, in what one would consider a pretty mundane exercise. The pokuru samba (vadimal vee) the 4 month variety was planted in the adjacent property that my sister acquired. The sowing was done on Poya day December 1st. As soon as we finished sowing, the rains came for the first time in 10 days. The last thing one wants is rain immediately after sowing, as the sown seeds are likely to be washed away to the ditches that have been created to drain excess water out of the fields. The only saving grace was that this property has very muddy soil that will hold the seed, while a sandy soil will wash it away. As a precaution to transplant areas where there is low density of paddy, a small nursery was also set up, and in retrospect was wise due to the heavy rains.

So my fields that should also have been prepared a while ago, also became a last minute one due to the main man lying on a hospital bed in Kurunegala with a broken foot, caused in an accident between the trishaw that he was in and a motorcycle. I had to take charge and find stand-in paid helpers to complete the task. The going wage rate had gone up this season to Rs700 a day, which really points at more mechanization being a better proposition. Then one of the neighbors managed to get the tractor stuck in the only part of my fields where that could conceivably happen and in the effort in trying to extricate it managed to get it to go upside down resulting in more damage, where many of the parts had to be removed and cleaned and some replaced before recommencing the second tilling.

Needless to say there were some fundamental errors, which had not been corrected, like not using the mud wheels in the wet tilling and also not replacing the rotary blades that had been bought. There are so many areas to consider in this process.

In amongst all this I had to complete the complicated fertilizer subsidy forms, then find the secretary of the farmers coop who had to approve them. It was tough finding his place in the dark. Then I had to get the approval of the agricultural extension officer. The wild goose chase finding that person was an exercise requiring a seperate blog story. Once that was done, then I had to go the office to pay my money and get the bill for the fertilizer. The lady said that they were out of urea so she could only bill me for the fertilizer that the store actually had. I then went to Minneriya to the stores to pick of the fertilizer that was actually available. Some of my neighbors wanted me to help them transport their entititlement in my cab saving them transport costs, as they do not have their own tractor trailers, to bring it.

At the store I had to lug the 50kg bags to my pick up as there is no help around there, and the bureaucrats are only supervising that we correctly take only that which we have bills for. Just as I was putting it on the truck, the rains came, so there was another delay in getting the stuff back to base dry.

All this while the fields were being prepared for sowing. A seperate blog entry will describe how the seed paddy is washed and prepared so that the seedlings are in a form ready to be sown, with maximum germination.

We usually decide in advance what form of pre emergent weedicide that we have to put, and depending on the variety chosen, the spraying schedule is determined. The weather can affect the practicality of that too, and if one had purchased one that has to be sprayed within 4 days of sowing, as I did, rain can adversely affect its effectiveness. It is also very important to note that the cost of this exceeds the total price paid for the fertilizer that will be used for the whole season, enriching the companies like BASF, Monsanto, and the like whose products are used under different brand names, and under license from them. A little known fact is that the total cost to the farmers nationally of what they pay for fertilizer is less than what the farmer spends on the pre emergent weedicides to the half a dozen companies, like CIC, Hayleys, Lankem, Harrisons, Finlays, that have an oligopoly on these products. I will use 'Tiller Gold' on the Pokuru Samba, and 'Sofit' on the BG 352 variety (100day) of nadu that I am planting in my fields. I used Solito last season, and my yields were less than hoped for.

My seed paddy was purchased from CIC, which is probably the most expensive at over Rs62 a kilo of usable paddy once the "boll" is extracted in the soaking and washing process. The timing of the rains can affect the planting schedule and also the eventual harvest, and this season, the rains came late and in my case the timing could not have been worse.