A proficient workforce is grist for a successful farmer’s mill. Competency of farm managers and other staff determine the success of any medium to large-scale farmer.
Vineyard Farms Limited, a medium-scale producer of capsicum, courgette, tomatoes and hybrid watermelons, was on the brink of shutdown two years ago. Poor management and incompetent staff were turning the company’s farm into a nightmare for its owners.
Weak soils and poor yield were their constant woes.
The company needed a turn around to break even. Its directors opted to invest in a qualified and experienced farm manager. Though they would have to pay such an expert a hefty salary, it seemed a long-term solution to the perpetual losses.
Hence, the company hired Isaiah Muthuri, a household name on Mkulima Young platforms on issues horticulture and value addition, as its farm manager. The BSc. Horticulture graduate was given a leeway to use his expertise to improve the farm.
Muthuri presented the Vineyard Farms directors with a three-pronged strategy to improve production on the 15 acre farm. First he suggested hiring competent farm workers with experience in vegetable and fruit farming, second he needed to boost soil fertility and third the company needed aggressive marketing to increase sales.
Getting experienced staff was easily achieved because Vineyard Farms is located in a region where skilled workers are in plenty. All the surrounding farms are medium to large-scale horticulture and floriculture farms. Muthuri therefore embarked on a hunt for experienced and competent workers from neighbouring farms. He managed to bring in 6 permanent employees.
Armed with a capable team, Muthuri introduced a crop rotation program to boost soil fertility. He chose maize as his rotation crop.
“When choosing a crop for rotation, always opt for one that is cheap to produce. Maize is ideal for a vegetable farm,” advises Muthuri.
Currently, the farm has 5 acres of green maize under the crop rotation program.
The advantage of using maize for crop rotation is that one can make up to Ksh 135,000 an acre from selling green maize. In addition, one can add value to stovers by making silage (Click here:-silage-making to read about making silage). Vineyard Farms packages silage in 50 kg bags selling each at Ksh 1,000. Muthuri’s solution to weak soil was not only helpful but profitable.
Capturing lucrative markets
Vineyard Farms supplies vegetables to local supermarkets and five-star hotels. Muthuri is in charge of seeking attractive markets for his company. To capture competitive markets, he ensures Vineyard farms has an online presence on platforms such as Mkulima Young. He actively engages farmers, buyers and sellers in search of opportunities.
Aggressive and persistent marketing has paid off for Vineyard Farms. For instance, Muthuri once landed a deal with a dairy farmer from Rongai who wanted 200 bags of silage through Facebook. This earned the company Ksh 200,000.
“Doing business online is not always rosy” warns Muthuri. “Sometimes I encounter fraudsters, conmen and outright annoying people.
However, landing a good client after five or four encounters with fraudsters and imposters is worth it. One only needs to be careful about delivering products before meeting the buyer. I always arrange a physical meeting with my online clients to ensure authenticity of the deal,” he adds.
In addition to online marketing, Muthuri also relies on referrals to grow his market network. Some of his best clients are people who were referred to him by other clients. To keep the referrals, Muthuri ensures that his company produces the best quality, large volumes to meet a client’s demands and ensures produce safety through strict chemical control.
Advice to medium-scale farmers
Muthuri’s advice to young farmers interested in medium-scale farming (10-50 acres) is threefold. First, the farmer must know his farm. “Understanding your farm will help you choose the best crop for it,” he opines.
Secondly, the farmer should understand the kind of farming one is getting into. If the farmer has no experience in flower farming for instance, but is interested in it, Muthuri advises such a farmer to take short courses in floriculture. Such courses equip one with basic knowledge in the area of interest. Basic agronomy skills are necessary for any medium to large-scale farmer.
Lastly, to be a successful medium-scale farmer, one has to market aggressively through farmer networks, market linkages and referrals. In order to avoid market glut, a farmer should conduct a market survey prior to planting.
By Nyambura Maina