Tomato production or Red Gold production as I like to call it is one of the most lucrative horticultural ventures that a small and upcoming farmer can venture into. Tomatoes fetch prices as high as 20 USD/crate at peak with the average small holder farmer delivering 100 to 800+ crates in a week that translates to reasonable income compared to all other horticultural crops.
- Who can grow tomatoes?
Just like any other crop tomatoes are one of the most delicate crops that really require a lot of pampering and attention and therefore they require a dedicated individual in terms of time, skill, resources and passion once you have these you good to go.
- How much skill do I need to grow tomatoes?
If you intend to grow tomatoes on a small or large scale one need to have a reasonable amount of skill and knowledge in order to run the venture as a profitable business. If you are to employ farm workers it is vital to employ workers who have experience growing tomatoes or better still have the workers trained before the season starts and at every vital growth stage of your crop by a professional Agronomist.
- When is the best time to grow tomatoes
In Zimbabwe it is not recommended to grow this crop in frost prone areas as the plant is very susceptible to frost damage at times resulting in a100 % loss to the farmer. If you are in a frost prone areas it will be advisable to put up a green house to protect your crop or put up polythene barriers around your field in the direction of the prevailing wind, the latter will reduce the damage but not protect your crop. Most farmers in Zimbabwe are encouraged to plant their crop between August and January as most varieties will last between four and six months in the field being harvested again this depends on the area and variety. If your area is not prone to frost with proper planning you can harvest your crop well into winter June/July which is the time when some of the best prices are reached
- Common challenges
Just like any other business you are bound to face certain challenges that are unique to tomatoes, Most common question is how do I control these bugs eating my tomatoes. Well, first one needs to be able to identify the pest as here are thousands of bugs that can attack your crop, which goes back to the issue of employing trained staff or receiving adequate training for yourself and your staff. Proper chemical handling , mixing and application is another challenge that farmers meet resulting in under application or over application of a chosen chemical resulting in chemical resistance by the pest emerging and poor yields.
- Which varieties can I grow?
The variety of choice will depend upon a number of factors which include shelf life ,size, market preference etc. It is very important to ask before you purchase the seed about its qualities, disease resistance, pest resistance, shelf life etc. A good example is the Sakata Discol F1 variety it is a high yielding variety , with very big tomatoes with a good shelf life of up to 17 days post-harvest however this variety is prone to late and early blight as well as red spider mites which can adversely reduce the potential yield.
- How much do I need to start up?
Careful planning is required when intending to grow tomatoes, How much one will need will depend on the proposed hecterage. It is important to note that with tomatoes you will have a waiting period of 4-6 months before harvest begins and during this time the crop will require a lot of prophylactic chemicals, fertilizers, and herbicides etc which are heavy on the pocket so before you put seed into the seed bed make sure you have the required financial resources. The upside of the story is that the returns in tomato production are tremendous for every dollar invested expect minimum 5 dollars in return.
Emmanuel D.N Dube is the senior agronomist at Agro Aid Trust, for your questions don’t hesitate to contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org / 0783 495 396
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