Diversification: spreading the risk on a Tanzanian farm

Having too few production divisions can cause financial stress if markets fail. A Tanzanian operation has minimised the risk by launching a variety of enterprises in a relatively short time. Lloyd Phillips reports.

Diversification: spreading the risk on a Tanzanian farm
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Nature can’t be hurried: it takes time to establish a successful farm, learning what crops are best suited to the conditions, and adapting as years go by. But it seems that Mark and Nicky Myatt-Taylor are not prepared to wait. In just seven years, they have converted virgin bush into an extensive and profitable farming enterprise. One of their secrets, apart from sheer hard work, is diversification.

Mark was a farm manager in Kenya, but he and Nicky cherished a dream of owning their own farm. After some research, they discovered that undeveloped land was available in Tanzania’s Iringa Province and that there were also suitable markets in that country. The Myatt-Taylors formed a partnership – Selous Farming Limited (SFL)– with Mark’s South Africa-based brother David Gagney and retired Tanzanian politician Dr Ben Moshi, and bought the 1 481ha Ifunda farm in Iringa. The couple finally moved there in 2005 with their three young children.

A year later, SFL also bought the rundown 1 410ha Ludodolelo farm 250km south of Ifunda. The Myatt-Taylors, Nicky’s late brother Alistair and SFL staff immediately set about transforming the two farms – building dams, assembling centre pivots, preparing lands and erecting buildings. Crop planning received considerable attention too.

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(The farm’s early years were covered in last week’s issue of Farmer’s Weekly.)

Mark and Nicky Myatt-Taylor have carved a highly diversified farming operation out of virgin veld in Tanzania’s southern highlands. They remain on the lookout for new income-generating business opportunities. Courtesy of SFL/Sala lewis

“When we started here, there were lucrative seed contracts but virtually no seed companies in the south,” explains Mark. “Now at least five companies want us to grow for them. SFL was instrumental in bringing the first large seed maize contracts to Tanzania when we planted seed maize for Pannar Seed in 2006.”

SFL was the first company to grow commercial barley and seed barley in the southern highlands and worked with Tanzania Breweries Ltd-SABMiller (TBL) to develop this market. The enterprise has been fortunate to benefit from increasing demand for locally grown hybrid seed and a surge in prices. “The barley price has climbed from TZS380 000/t (R2 011/t) to TZS740 000 (R3 897/t). And when we first came here, we struggled to get TZS120 000/t (R630/t) for commercial maize.

Now we ‘re getting TZS300 000/t to TZS350 000/t (R1 580/t to R1 840/t),” says Mark. There’s no doubt that the past seven years have been a steep learning curve. “We’ve learned a lot about which crops are best suited and now we’re harvesting our best yields,” he says.

Crops and orchards
Seed maize

Mark grows white seed maize on 150ha on Ifunda farm, of which 64ha is irrigated by centre pivot while the rest is rainfed. The varieties are Seed Co Tanzania Ltd’s non-genetically modified hybrids SC 627 and SC 403, as GM crops are prohibited in the country. The seed is transported to Seed Co’s headquarters in Arusha 800km to the north. SFL’s average yield of cleaned seed maize is 6t/ ha.

SFL employs 150 to 300 local women for a few months each year to harvest, sort and bag white seed maize and the commercial maize crop.

If the scrap maize grains are added to the total, the yield would increase by 5% to 20%. The scrap seed is milled on Ifunda as livestock feed. “The maize season starts with planting in early December when the rain starts, and ends with harvesting from 15 July until September. The harvesting season is long because all the cobs are harvested, shelled and cleaned by hand, using seasonal staff of 150 to 300 local women,” explains Mark.

“Seed maize production is our primary enterprise. We’re one of probably only five farming businesses growing seed maize in Tanzania.” The maize is planted with a four-row Monosem NG Plus precision vacuum planter at 52 000 plants/ha and at 80cm row spacing.

Commercial white maize
SFL grows 20ha rainfed commercial white maize a year using the same implements and planting methods as for the seed maize. Average yield is 7t/ha, and the crop is harvested and shelled by hand as the seasonal workers are already on the farm to harvest the seed maize. The commercial maize crop is milled on the farm as a feed ingredient for SFL’s commercial egg and broiler enterprises, which consume 30t of maize grain a month. The broilers require far more than this, however, and SFL makes up the shortfall by buying in 220t of white maize grain a year.

According to Mark, SFL’s supervisory team has been key to the operation’s profits and success. The team comprises (from left to right): Julius Thurungu, head stockman; Julius Kangoita, assistant crop manager; Bahati Sanga, head mechanic; Joshua Likundi, head of poultry and animal health; and Mark Nightingale, SFL’s manager.

Malting barley seed
SFL grows 92ha of malting barley seed annually under centre pivot irrigation for TBL. Mark is not at liberty to reveal the variety of malting barley seed that he grows for the brewing company but says that the crop is planted in mid-June and harvested in mid-October.

“We plant barley seed at 150kg/ha on 250mm spacing, using a Kenya-made, 6m-wide, no-till Ndume air seeder with press wheels at the rear,” Mark explains. “The crop is harvested with a Claas Medion 340 combine harvester with a 7,5m-wide wheat header. Our average yield is 6t/ha.”

Malting barley
The operation grows 400ha of rainfed commercial malting barley of several varieties on Ludodolelo farm to supply TBL. The crop is planted with the no-till air seeder at a rate of 125kg/ ha of seed and at an inter-row spacing of 250mm. Planting starts in the first week of January, and harvesting, with the Claas Medion combine harvester, begins from mid-July. Average yield is 3t/ha.

Soya bean
In summer, Mark has 60ha of rainfed soya beans in the ground in a maize:soya bean rotation of either 1:1 or 2:1. SFL has been growing soya beans since the summer of 2009/10, planting in early December at 100kg/ha and with 500mm row spacing, and harvesting in mid-May. Average yield is 3t/ha.

East Africa is a growing market for soya beans, which is processed into animal feed, and buyers from as far away as Nairobi travel to Ifunda to buy SFL’s soya beans. Since starting the soya bean-maize rotation three summers ago, Mark has already noticed an improvement in the growth and yield of following maize crops.

The 64ha centre pivot on Ifunda farm irrigating a malting barley seed crop. SFL grows 92ha of this crop for Tanzania Breweries Ltd-SABMiller.

Four years ago, SFL planted a 1ha trial orchard of Hass avocados on Ifunda farm. Although the trees start bearing properly only at five years, Mark’s preliminary evaluation indicates a good crop. His ideal would be to develop 60ha of microjet-irrigated avocado orchards, yielding 10t/ha or more, as soon as is feasible, and looks forward to taking advantage of the massive European demand for avocados.

“Tanzania can meet this demand when other avocado-exporting countries are in their off-season,” he explains. “We envisage trucking the avocados to Dar es Salaam and exporting them by sea to Europe.”

Mark and Nicky own the Woragus Boran Stud and the Woragus Santa Gertrudis Stud that are run on Ifunda farm. A commercial Boran/Santa Gertrudis herd is run on Ludodolelo farm. The Woragus Boran Stud, established in 1995 on the slopes of Mount Kenya, was based on the first stud bull, Gianni 2812, that the couple bought to cover a nucleus herd of 20 Boran heifers sourced from various ranches in Kenya.

The stud currently runs 160 registered cows that annually produce about 70 bull calves and 70 female calves for sale and as replacement breeding stock in the stud herd. The stud has earned numerous prizes and attained record prices in East Africa and Zambia. The Santa Gertrudis stud was started from embryos imported from South Africa through Embryo Plus. “We were advised by Martin Seyfferdt, the SA cattle authority,” Mark recalls.

“The stud currently has 20 registered cows mainly to produce bulls for ourselves, with some also sold in Kenya and Tanzania.”SFL’s commercial beef herd has 200 Boran/Santa Gertrudis cows. Mark uses a highly successful criss-cross breeding system. Birth rate and weaning percentage are both 92%. Weaning weights average 240kg at 240 days and the weaners are finished in Ifunda farm’s feedlot.

“We slaughter them in our on-farm abattoir when they are 14 months old – about 15 animals a week,” Mark says. “The meat is sold to supermarkets, lodges, mining compounds, the local community and our staff. To meet the area’s red meat demand, we also buy in about 400 unfinished steers a year from local livestock owners.”

SFL runs 150 stud Dorper ewes originally sourced from Zambia and Kenya. This stud produces mainly breeding rams for commercial sheep farmers in Tanzania, a huge market, especially among Masai pastoralists, according to Mark. The stud sells about 60 rams and 20 top quality ewes annually in Tanzania, with all the rams sold at one year old. Culled rams are slaughtered on the farm, and the meat is sold locally.

“Every year we select about two rams for stud use,” Mark explains. “We have two breeding flocks of about 75 ewes each. New rams are brought in every three years from Zambia. Our average lambing rate is about 105%, and average weaning rate is 95% to 100%.

“All unsold maiden Dorper ewes go into our breeding flocks to help grow the stud Dorper enterprise as grazing allows. These maiden ewes are mated at one year old.” In winter, grazing is supplemented with home-grown rolled oats at 300g/sheep daily. The flock has ad lib access to a mineral lick. Mark treats the sheep for liver fluke because of the nearby swamps, and for foot rot in the rainy season.

Commercial egg layers
SFL manager Mark Nightingale runs the egg enterprise: 3 000 Hyline layers in six houses producing about 90 trays of 30 eggs daily. These are delivered on contract to hotels in Dar es Salaam about 550km away, and to mining camps in southern Tanzania. Day-old layers are bought in from Interchick in Dar es Salaam.

Hyline hens in one of six layer houses on Ifunda farm. If average production in a house drops to 65% or below, all the hens in that house are culled.

“The hens in each layer house are all culled when production in the house drops to 65%, and the birds are usually 85 weeks to 90 weeks old,” he says. “Optimal layer production is from 25 weeks to 70 weeks. Our layer flocks often achieve production of 90% to 95%, which I’m told is extraordinary. Our average production from January to September 2012 was a respectable 85%.”

SFL’s layers are fed a ration of home-grown milled maize, sunflower seed sourced locally and milled on Ifunda farm, limestone sourced from Iringa 50km away, dicalcium phosphate from Mbeya in the south, bulk sunflower cake and sea salt also bought in Iringa, and a premix of macro- and micronutrients sourced from Kenya.

Mark Nightingale is also responsible for SFL’s broiler production. There are three broiler houses on Ifunda, holding a total of 4 000 Cobb birds. Day-old chicks are brought in from Interchick every three weeks, and slaughtered on the farm. “We have many customers,” says Mark. “Local supermarkets and restaurants want slaughtered birds between 1kg and 1,5kg, while lodges and mining compounds buy the larger broilers. The birds are slaughtered at six to seven weeks.”

SFL’s broiler enterprise averages an impressive 3% total mortality by slaughter age. Many of their feed ingredients are similar to those in SFL’s commercial layer feed. However, they get broiler-specific starter and finisher premixes, and are not given sunflower cake.

Contact Mark Myatt-Taylor on +255 784 281 224 or email [email protected]