Wheat straw keeps milk flowing for Narok farmers
Wheat farmers across the country have found an innovative way to earn more from the cereal by using its by-products to make animal feed in addition to selling the grains.
Making home-made feeds has enabled farmers lower their cost of production resulting in increased overall farm profitability.
Even without the value addition aspect, the farmers are still making good money from farming and selling the crop.
Sammy Siloma, a wheat farmer from Enabelibel, Narok, rears 50 beef cattle on his 50-acre wheat farm. He has another 100 acres under the crop in Rotian area of Narok.
On the farm, Siloma uses home made animal feed he makes from wheat by-products to fatten his cattle for three months before selling them off. He keeps mostly Sahiwals, Zebu, and a cross-breed of the two.
The 39-year-old farmer blends wheat, sunflower, maize germ, soya beans, barley and minced bones to make the fattening feed. Luckily, he grows all the ingredients on his expansive farm except soya beans and minced bones.
He only sells part of the wheat harvest and uses the rest to make animal feeds. Nothing goes to waste as he uses wheat straws to make hay used to make animal feed.
On average, Siloma buys a bull at Sh20,000 and sells it between Sh70,000 and Sh90,000 making between Sh50,000 and Sh70,000 in profit per animal.
To maximise on his earnings, he sells his animals by their live weight, at Sh350 per kilogramme, as opposed to ad hoc pricing, selling a bull only after it weighs above 350 kilogrammes.
This way, he ensures none of his bulls sells below Sh100,000.
To guard against exploitation by buyers, he uses the Cow Measure Calculator mobile app to determine the live weight of his animals before selling them.
Siloma rears all his animals, including sheep and pigs, under zero grazing on a 100 square feet space, an uncommon practice in the largely nomadic Maasai community. “We have a lot of resources, especially land, which are underutilised. I decided to rear all my animals on this piece of land to teach my people how to utilise resources effectively, something I learned in Githunguri, Kiambu,” said Siloma.
He has been farming wheat for the last 10 years, having inherited it from his parents.
He began with 10 acres and increased the farm size gradually to the current 150 acres. Back then, the cost of farming wheat was approximately Sh20,000 an acre, but it has since risen to between Sh25,000 and Sh30,000.
For three years, he stopped wheat farming because of declining sales, but reverted toit after realising that adding value to the crop increased profitability threefold.
He was attracted into wheat farming by its relative ease of production and high returns. “Wheat farming is less labour-intensive compared to others such as maize farming. It involves no weeding and nourishes the land as turning of soil is involved,” said Siloma.
For every acre of wheat, Siloma harvests an average of 40 bags of 90 kilogrammes each, and 200 bales of wheat straws.
He sells his produce to a Ugandan buyer at Sh4,200 a bag, a much higher price than the Sh3, 500 local buyers offer for the same, and a bale of straws at Sh200 each.
Wheat takes four to six months to mature, hence it is farmed twice a year depending on the weather conditions in an area.
Taking care of a wheat farm involves conducting soil tests to determine the appropriate fertilisers to use, spraying selective herbicides to kill weeds, and foliar feeding the crop once a month among other activities. “You must conduct soil analysis before planting, feed the plant well and protect it against diseases such as rust and blight. We keep monitoring changes on the plant leaves to detect if there is a deficiency or disease,” he said.
He uses Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) labs in Kabete, Kiambu, and SoilCares Africa, situated in Karen, Nairobi, for most of his soil testing. Herbicides form the biggest cost item on the farm. He spends Sh80,000 for every 14 acres of wheat every season in addition to other expenses such as the cost of labour.
When it comes to land preparation, Siloma advises that it is good to go for chiseling, as opposed to tilling, since it helps in water retention.
He considers birds invasion a serious challenge too. “Time your planting season to go with other farmers so that the birds don’t feed from your farm alone. The county government is helping us with bird control, but that is hardly enough,” he says.
Other challenges include erratic weather patterns, difficulty accessing credit and wheat brokers pushing prices downwards to widen their own profit margins. “Banks are now asking for loan repayment after harvesting as opposed to paying monthly payments like we used to do before,” says the father of one.
For an economically viable wheat farming business, Siloma says you need a minimum of 10 acres. “You make about Sh60,000 per acre, hence for 10 acres you make about Sh600,000 every six months. You can do a lot with that kind of money,” he said, adding, “Soil is money, stop focusing on white collar jobs,” he says.
In addition to buying the 50 herds of cattle, Siloma, a botanist by training, has bought 120 acres of land in Narok on which he intends to rear sheep, all from wheat farming.
He is in the process of setting up a feed processing farm on the Enabelibel farm and has already ordered for milling machines from China at a cost of Sh1.2 million. He is also, together with his wife undertaking post-graduate studies at a local university, funded by proceeds from the wheat. Siloma is not the only wheat farmer who has discovered the secret of using its by-products to make animal feed to improving a farm’s overall productivity.
Simon ole Poror, Narok County Farmers Stakeholders Forum chairman, also does the same.
The 70-year-old grows four acres of wheat and barley, which he uses to make animal feeds for his 17 dairy cows. He has been rearing cows since 1997.
He also grows brachiaria and lupine fodders, which he blends with wheat straws to make animal feed. Brachiariia is a type of grass repatriated to Africa from Brazil. It is good for grazing and increases milk production. Lupine is a protein rich legume, also used to increase milk production.
By using home-made feed, Ole Poror has managed to lower the cost of producing one litre of milk from Sh18 to 24 per litre to an average of Sh12 to Sh14. “When you sell raw wheat, you are selling your raw materials and you end up earning very little. Instead, add value to your produce,” advises Ole Poror.
Even without going through the elaborate process of converting wheat straws into cow feed, Steven Kibor from Kipkabus, Uasin Gishu, is making a tidy sum from his 800 acres of land, 500 of which are under wheat.
The 45-year-old has been engaged in wheat farming since he was 25 and has been fully engaged in farming for the last five years.
Each acre yields about 20 bags (90 kilos each) which he sells at Sh3,000 to local millers.
Minus expenses, about Sh20,000 to Sh25,000 per acre, Kibor still makes good profit.
According to Kibor, it takes about 65kg of wheat seed (costing Sh3,750 per 50kg bag) and one and a half bags of fertiliser costing Sh3,300 per 50kg bag to farm an acre of wheat. “Food production is a business that will be around forever. If you do it the right way, you can make good money out of it,” says Kibor.
With eight tractors, three boom sprayers, six harrowers, and one row planter, Kibor has mechanised most of the activities on his farm, reducing reliance on human employees and lowering significantly his cost of production.
At times, he leases farming machinery from the county government at a subsidised fee.
However, weed and pest control, erratic weather and lack of enough agronomists pose a serious challenge to him.
“We spend over Sh2 million a season buying herbicides and pesticides alone not counting other expenses such as equipment maintenance and fuel,” said Kibor.
To lower cost of production, the Bachelor of Technology graduate propagates his own seed upgrading the variety every two years.
Unlike Siloma who proposes a minimum of 10 acres for good retursn, Kibor says that an individual seeking to go into economically viable wheat farming farms on a minimum of 20 acres. “Wheat farming is all about economies of scale,” he says.
While he doesn’t add value to his wheat straws like Siloma and Ole Poror, he still makes a profit by selling it as hay for Sh120 a bale. “It’s a good venture if you have the patience, it has good returns. I would tell young people to stop selling land and farm instead,” says Siloma.
In Kenya, wheat is the second most important cereal grain crop, after maize, and is grown in Narok, Kitale, Nakuru, Trans-Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and some parts of Laikipia. The most common wheat variety in the country is Durum also known as Pasta wheat, grown under both small and large scale.
Wheat production in the country is more mechanised compared to maize and other common cereals.