Influence Of Agronomic Practices On Crop Production By Dr. Abubakar K. Karaye

Introduction
In crop production, the ultimate goal of any farmer is to get optimum yield per unit area. To achieve this, effective crop management practices which are otherwise known as cultural practices appeared to be of paramount value. Cultural practices simply refer to all the operations carried out on the farm right from the beginning of the farming season to the end (Earnest, 1995).
In Nigeria, however, crop production is lagging behind in terms of yield per hectare compared to International standard, perhaps due to the problems associated with poor crop management practices (Nyako, 2008). This is quite justifiable considering the report by OLAM (2016) on sesame production in Jigawa state in which the average seed yield of sesame on farmer’s field was put at 0.6 t ha-1 as opposed to 1.25 t ha-1 that is practically obtainable on well-managed farms. The low seed yield of sesame observed on farmer’s field could be ascribed to the failure of the farmers to adopt the recommended agronomic practices that govern the production of the said crop.
In fact, each crop has an established cultural practice that guides its production which was developed by crop scientists through a series of experimentations. And for the inherent yield potential of that crop to be fully expressed, such management practices must be carried out as recommended. Not only that even the productive capacity per unit land area cannot be fully expressed if such recommended agronomic practices are violated. It is therefore against this background that this paper is prepared with a view to sensitize the participants and create a general awareness on the benefits associated with effective crop management practices so as to ensure sustainable food security and poverty eradication within the country.
Problem Statement
Crop production in Nigeria is faced with many challenges among which are: untimely planting, incorrect plant spacing, wrong method of planting, poor sowing depth, delayed weeding, ineffective pests and diseases control, inappropriate use of fertilizers, untimely harvesting and above all usage of poor quality seeds and low yielding varieties of crops. More often than not, such poor crop management practices resulted in poor crop growth which subsequently becomes reflected in low yield per unit area. As a result of which farming becomes physically strenuous and economically unrewarding in nature.
Justification
With poor crop management practices being one of the possible reasons responsible for low yield of crop in the country, it was envisaged that refreshing the memories of the participants and creating a general awareness on the obvious advantages associated with effective crop management practices will yield handsome dividends in this direction.
Materials and Methods
In preparing this paper, secondary sources of data such as books, journals, seminar papers, proceedings, bulletins, training manuals etc were reviewed or rather consulted.

Discussions
In agricultural perspective, cultural practices simply refer to all the operations or activities carried out on the farm right from the beginning of the farming season to the end (Earnest, 1995). He further classified cultural practices into pre-planting, planting and post planting operations.

1. Pre-planting operations
These are the operations carried out on the farm before planting is done which include the following:
Site selection: This is very important in crop production as soil type determines not only the kind of crop to be grown in an area but also the performance of the crop. For example, maize thrives well in clay loam soil while cassava performs better in sandy loamy soil.
Land clearing: This involves clearing of existing vegetation so as to make cultivation and other farm operations easy and convenient. It can be done manually or mechanically.
Stumping: This is the removal of the underground portions of the plants right from the base of their roots. It is done in order to make the use of tractor-coupled implements like plough, harrow and ridger easy and practicable.
Ploughing: Breaking the soil to loosen it so as to enhance easy penetration of roots, soil aeration, and water percolation and create a suitable medium for microbial activities within the soil.
Harrowing: It is the act of breaking up the large soil particles resulting from ploughing into fine particles. Harrowing mixes the soil together and destroys weed seeds.
Ridging: This is the process of making ridges. Ridges increase crop yield by promoting moisture retention and easy root penetration into the soil (Lado, 2014).
Seed bed preparation: Seed beds are usually constructed prior to planting in order to conserve soil moisture and ensure better seedlings management particularly in crops that require nursery treatment such as rice, onion, pepper, tomatoes etc.
Seed selection: In crop production, the first step in attaining good harvest is the use of good quality seeds (Okuson, 2002). Certified seeds from a reliable seed company should be selected for planting as seeds of poor quality result in poor harvest.
Seed treatment: This involves pre-planting seed treatment so as to protect it from soil borne pathogens and diseases in order to ensure better seed germination and seedlings emergence.
Application of organic manure: As opposed to inorganic fertilizers, organic manures are usually incorporated into the soil prior to planting as they decompose gradually and release nutrients into the soil (OCIA, 2002).
2. Planting operations
These are the operations that are carried out on the farm during planting which include plant spacing, seed rate and planting itself.
Plant spacing: This is the distance between two plants. The distance between one plant and another along the same ridge or row is called intra or within row spacing while the distance between one plant and another on different ridges or row is known as inter or between row spacing. The spacing at which crop is planted determines plant population per unit area, seed rate, plant competition for the limited environmental resources, interception of solar radiation, weed suppression and more importantly the yield per unit area (Karaye and Yakubu, 2006). In the same vein, Okosun (2002) reported that each crop has an optimum plant density at which it produces maximum yield, below or above this point yield becomes negatively affected.
Seed rate: This refers to the quantity of seeds or planting materials required to cover the planting of an area. To determine seed rate of a given area, the area of the land, the actual spacing and the number of seeds per hole must be known. Assuming that we want to plant a crop in a piece of land which is 200m long and 100m wide and if the spacing is 2m by 2m and 3 seeds are to be planted per hole, then the seed rate can be determine as follows:
Area of the land = length x breath
= 200m x 100m
= 20,000m2
Spacing = 2m x 2m
Number of seeds per hole = 3
Number of stands along the length side = 200/2 = 100 stands
Number of stands along the breath side = 100/2 = 50 stands
Total number of stands = 100 x 50 = 5,000 stands
Number of seeds per hole = 3
Thus the seed rate = 5,000 x 3
= 15,000 seeds
However, this is applicable to dibbling method of planting only where the number of seeds per hole is known as opposed to drilling or broadcasting methods of planting.

Planting: This is the placement of seeds into the soil for germination. Different crops require different planting methods as such different planting methods such as dibbling, drilling and broadcasting are employed in crop production and the method to be adopted depends on crop and resources available. Time and method of planting as well as sowing depth are very crucial in crop production as each of these influence seed germination, seedling establishment, crop growth and yield, respectively, (Alhassan et al, 2007). For example, for good germination, sesame requires shallow planting depth due to the smaller nature of the seeds. Karaye (2004) also reported that early sown garlic plants tend to grow more vegetatively and produce high yield compared to lately planted garlic plants.
3. Post Planting Operations
These are operations carried out after planting which entail the following:
Weeding: This is the removal of unwanted plants found growing among the cultivated crops. Weeds compete with crops for limited environmental resources and harbor pests and diseases that are harmful to crops (Oudhia, 2004). Such competition usually becomes manifested in depressed crop growth and yield. Timely weeding is very necessary if crop yield is to be increased.
Irrigation: In case of dry season farming, irrigation is necessary in order to meet the water requirement of the plants and enhance maximum production per unit area. Irrigation frequency and quantity of water per application are very crucial as per as crop production is concern.
Thinning: This is the removal of weak or extra seedlings from a stand when the seeds per stand germinate more than required. Thinning is preferably done after rain when the soil is wet and care must be taken not to damage the roots of other plants. Thinning reduces the level of inter plant competition thereby enhancing individual plant performance which in turn resulted in high productivity per unit area.
Supplying: This is the practice of replanting the vacant positions created by poor seed germination. It is done when all the seeds have germinated. Supplying ensures optimum plant population per unit area which invariably increases yield.
Fertilizer application: Cropping depletes plant nutrients from the soil and fertilizers are added to the soil to supplement or replenish the lost nutrients. By following fertilizer recommendations in terms of method, dosage, time and number of application, farmers may get back, more than double of their investment (FAO, 2007).
Mulching: This is the placement of materials such as dry grasses, saw dust, leaves, wood shavings etc over the soil surface. Mulching conserve soil moisture, regulates soil temperature, provides erosion control, suppresses weed growth, serves as vegetative cover, improves soil condition and increases soil fertility.
Control of pests and diseases: When crops are attacked by pests and diseases, the result is low yield or sometimes total crop failure. It is therefore necessary to control pests and diseases. This can be achieved through the use of resistant varieties, good farm management practices, crop rotation, use of natural enemies of the pests and spraying with appropriate insecticides.
Harvesting: When crops are fully matured, the useful parts are removed or detached from the parent plants for consumption or for sale. This practice is called harvesting. Timely harvesting is very important in crop production as delay in harvesting leads to reduction in crop yield and quality and low quality products always attract poor price. This implies low income to the farmer.
Processing: This is the process of transforming the farm produce into consumable form or into forms acceptable to the consumers. Wheat, for example, requires drying, threshing, winnowing, sorting, grading and bagging before market disposal. In fact, well processed goods fetch more income to the farmer than poorly processed ones. To crown it all, the main factor that differentiates our locally produced rice from that of the western world is the aspect of processing but not palatability or nutritional value.
Storage: This involves the safe keeping of farm produce that are not ready for sale or for immediate family consumption. The storage facilities should be clean, dry and free from insect pests and diseases. Good storage fetches more money to the farmer as most of stored goods are usually sold during off-season when price is relatively high.
Marketing: This is the last stage of farm operations in which the farm produce which are not meant for family consumption are sent to the market for sale. Marketing is very important in agriculture as it ensures the movement of goods and services from where they are produced to where they are not produced. Effective marketing strategy yields more profit to the farmer and vice versa.
Conclusion
It could be concluded that effective crop management is one of the pre-requisites for a successful crop production. Based on this, farmers should be encouraged and motivated using all the available avenues to adopt improved farming technologies so as to enhance productivity per unit area which will in turns ensure sustainable food security and poverty eradication within the country.
Recommendations
i. Farmers should be encouraged and motivated using all available avenues to adopt improved farming technologies in order to increase productivity per unit area.
ii. Government should recruit more extension staff as the current number of extension officers is grossly inadequate to cover the large number of farmers within the country.
iii. Regular trainings be organized for extension staff so as to equip them with current farming technologies
iv. Intensification of agricultural extension services as it is the only means through which farmers could be encouraged to adopt modern farming techniques and inputs.
v. Research Institutes should double their efforts in the area of research activities in order to come up with new agricultural technologies that will increase productivity per unit area such as development of high yielding varieties of crops and new farming strategies.
vi. Research extension farmer inputs linkage system (REFILS) be intensified to speed up technology transfer
Acknowledgment
We wish to thank all the authors whose publications were cited in this paper.

Dr. Abubakar K. Karaye can be reach
Jigawa Research Institute, P.M.B. 5015 Kazaure, Jigawa State, Nigeria
Phone: 07036942234, 08024260355
E mail: karaye967 gmail.com

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