• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Achieving 30 ton/ha of tomato, lessons from Olam’s project

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By achieving 30 tons per hectare of tomato within its first production cycle, there could be a few lessons for other farmers interested in tomato production in how Caraway, a subsidiary of Olam Nigeria achieved this feat. The average yield of tomato in Nigeria has been put between four and seven tons per hectare, according to different sources, hardly indicating it crosses into 10 tons, and making a 30-ton feat quite significant.

Agribusiness Insight had a chat with the man overseeing the agronomic aspect of this operation, Emmanuel Sangodele, a plant scientist specialising in plant breeding and genetics who has practised for 25 years. Sangodele, who holds a PhD in plant genetics and breeding from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, India, has an ultimate target of achieving 50 metric tonnes of tomato per hectare, but in the immediate future, 40 tons would do.

During a recent visit to some of the pilot farms in Jigawa and Kano states, it was revealed that 18 varieties were being evaluated, and three have emerged top performers. At the moment, their names are coded by the company as CPT-1 to 3, but, what could be determined was they are hybrid seeds, and more so, cultivated under well developed agronomic practices.

Most farmers use either wrong or bad seeds, deficit in other inputs

Majority of farmers in Nigeria are using Open Pollinated Varieties (OPV), so, we strongly recommend hybrid varieties, said Sangodele. As can be seen from the pilot farms, hybrid varieties produced triple the yields that the average farmer can get on their own farm, he said.

Apart from the seeds, the company also gave special consideration to inputs like fertilizer as tomato actually needs a lot of potassium, this apart from the fact that the micronutrients must be optimal in the soil. A lot of potassium has to be put into it to give best results, said Sangodele.

On the farms, which are also used to demonstrate and show local farmers what possibilities exist, fertiliser is used in a proportion he describes as “130 Nitrogen, 45 phosphorous and 60 potassium, which we split dose across the period of vegetative growth”.

He further broke down the process, by explaining there were three levels of fertiliser application; NPK, MOP (a phosphorous based fertiliser) and Urea. The three layers of fertiliser application were done based on required levels of the soil to deliver the required nutrients to the tomato plants. This was done in addition to organic manure already used during land preparation.

“When you apply poultry manure, goat or cow dung, or compost as the case may be, tomato loves it so much,” Sangodele said.

By applying the right fertiliser from the land preparation and through the growth stages of the crops, he describes growth “as fantastic”. He also explains that by paying special attention to the input needs of the crops, another surprise the team got was in its phenological phase that is, the flowering period, as the flower density was very impressive and the fruits are coming up in the same manner.

Tray Nurseries deliver best results

The eventual performance of the tomato crops start from the nursery. If they die during nursery, then the project dies before it even starts. In setting up nurseries, it was observed that performance varied depending on the method used.

Sangodele explained that two methods of nursery raising were used on this project; one method is open field where seed beds are prepared and the seeds planted in them. The second is tray nursery where by using coco pits and mixing the soil with manure the seeds are then placed inside.

He observed that there were some issues with the open Nursery as some seeds were lost in the process. “Not all germinated but for the tray you can guarantee about 90 to 98 percent,” he said.

Using the field could be a more tempting option, particularly when confronted with time constraints and even resources to put in a proper tray nursery system. However, as the field as a nursery is a less controlled environment, there are hazards that could seriously impede germination rates.

As explained by Sangodele, this could manifest in the process of covering the layer of soil on top of the seed, as some may be too much and not germinate, or perhaps even insect and rat attacks may be responsible for the less germination recorded in the open field than tray.

While he acknowledges open field also germinated, the rates of germination were lower compared to the tray. It gave about 70 percent germination, whereas the tray nursery gave above 90 percent germination rate.

What makes a good tomato?

“A good tomato must be one that has much flesh and less water content,” said Sangodele. “There is what we call Brisc, and the value for a good tomato should not be less than 5. If you have 5 brisc for a particular variety (of tomato) it is good to go for processing”.

There are differences between processing tomato and fresh tomato. Fresh tomato has more water content than the real flesh, which is the solid part of the tomato that is required. For processors, a very good tomato will be the one that has less water and more flesh.

Farmers can also know the difference between the processing tomato and the fresh tomato even on their Farm. First, they will know if within three days of harvest a variety of tomato goes bad, then it is not suitable for processing. If it survives this number of days and beyond without turning into water or they crush and did not see much water in it, then they know such variety is good for processing.

“What makes a good tomato is the solid content,” Sangodele reiterates. After crushing the tomato, the solid part of it that is gotten after removing the water, seed and cover, is what determines if a tomato is good for processing.

“You should make sure to feed your plants very well so that they are able to produce good fruits. Variety may differ by sizes, but if we feed them very well, the plants are surely going to give you the weights required,” he said.

Furthermore, all tomatoes are expected to contain enough carbohydrates as well as good colour through lycopene that is present in them. Invariably, the solid content of it is actually what determines a better tomato for the processors.

Improving on the current results, Sangodele expressed the belief that when the company gets its planned 500 hectare allocation, yield will be at a minimum of 40 metric tons per hectare. On fields of out grower farmers, the target is for a minimum of 30 tonnes per hectare, more than three times what many currently realise.

From importing finished tomato paste into Nigeria (De Rica and Tasty Tom), to importing Tomato concentrates processed into paste, Caraway Nigeria, may soon complete its backward integration plan, and in the process, providing lessons in improving farm productivity to make commercial successes in tomato production.