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As the population increased, the food supply was not always sufficiently stable or plentiful to supply his needs. This probably led to the practice of crop production. Therefore, crop production began at least nine thousand (9000) years ago when domestication of plants became essential to supplement natural supplies in certain localities. The art of crop production is older than civilization, and its essential features have remained almost unchanged since the dawn of history.
Crop production is an intricate enterprise that requires vast knowledge about the Agronomy, environmental interactions, and the application of available technology to achieve food production.
Coarse Grain Crop Zones in Nigeria
The following areas are very important in ensuring a successful crop production enterprise. These are:
· Soil Information
Soil is a natural body consisting of layers (soil horizons) that are primarily composed of minerals, mixed with at least some organic matter, which differ from their parent materials in their texture, structure, consistency, color, chemical, biological and other characteristics. It is the unconsolidated or loose covering of fine rock particles that covers the surface of the earth.[i]
· A soil survey of the land area should be conducted.
Soil survey reports includes:
Description of soil, topography, climate.
Soil classification along with the base map & soil profile characteristics.
The nutrient level of the soil.
Soil survey report is prepared on the basis of soil characteristics such as soil structure, soil texture, soil types etc.
The soil survey report will help in deciding the suitability of the area for agricultural and non-agricultural uses; the type of crop production suitable for; land cultivation principle to adopt; and the nutrient level in the area. This information will help when deciding on the use of manure and fertilizer and the application rates.
· Land Preparation
This is one of the foremost operations that are carried out on the farm land in preparation for cropping. Land preparation (also called tillage or cultivation) and crop establishment go together, since land preparation influences the ability of the crop to emerge and produce a good, uniform crop stand.
This is a major pre-requisite for a good yield. Land preparation has changed from a manual to a power-assisted activity over the centuries, depending on the availability of different energy sources. Today tractors provide a major power source for tillage that allows many different variations. Manual and animal assisted tillage is still practiced though. Various activities are associated with land preparation to pave way for planting on the field. The kind of operation to adopt depends on the vegetation present on the field. This includes tree felling, stumping, ploughing, harrowing, ridging etc.
· Felling of trees: This involve removing the vegetation and clearing the farm site. It is usually done using bulldozer, chain saw etc.
· Stumping: The removal of perennial roots and tree stumps present in the soil.
· Ploughing: The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds, the remains of previous crops, and both crop and weed seeds, allowing them to break down. It also aerates the soil, allows it to hold moisture better and provides a seed-free medium for planting an alternate crop. It can be carried out using manually with a hoe or a plough.
· Harrowing: It is often carried out on fields to follow the rough finish left by ploughing operations. The purpose of this harrowing is generally to break up clods (lumps of soil) and to provide a finer finish, a good tilth or soil structure that is suitable for seedbed use. A mounted harrower is used for this purpose.
· Ridging: This involves making ridges for planting. Animal drawn ridger or tractor driven can be used to achieve ridge making.
· Planting: The act of sowing the desired seeds on a prepared field. There are different fabricated machinery that could be used to achieve this, depending on the type of crop (planter).
These are the various practices that are aimed at ensuring the crops are maintained at optimum production requirement to maximize production. This include:
1. Mulching: This involve the use of either plant residue or mulching material, to cover the soil in a bid to prevent excessive moisture loss; or to reduce the effect of high temperature on germinating seedlings, plant root etc. This practice is crop specific.
2. Irrigation: This allows crops to be grown during off season period (dry seasons) when rainfall is not regular or not available. Water is channeled from available source (lake, rivers, stream, dam, borehole etc.) to the crops to meet its optimum requirements.
3. Weed management: Weeds can be controlled both mechanically or chemically or by a combination of both depending on the crop. Often weeds growing on a fallow plot can be controlled by being ploughed under. Ploughing prior to cropping may also serve to kill the weeds present. Tillage between rows of growing crop can be an important method of weed control.
4. Staking: Staking provides physical support so that plants don’t break under the strain of fruit or inclement weather.
Staking enables better air flow through plants, which results in less internal moisture that can result in disease. Crops like tomato, yam requires staking.
5. Pruning: is a horticultural practice involving selective removal of parts of a plant such as branches. It entails targeted removal of diseased, damaged, dead, non – productive, structurally unsound, or otherwise unwanted tissue from crop and landscape plant. It only apply so certain crops and fruits
6. Pest management: Pests are organisms that attack crops at different stages of growth, which often have adverse consequence on the productivity of the crop, and reduced output realizable from the farm. There are different approach to pest management which include:
Pesticide based approach such as fungicide, insecticide, fungicide etc. Biological pest control approach: such as the use of trap crops, cover crops. Biotechnology-based approach: such as plant breeding and genetic modification
7. Disease management: is the practice of minimizing disease in crops to increase quality or quantity of harvest yield. It involves making conscious decisions related to numerous agronomic factors over which control can be exercised. Plant diseases are caused by microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes. Various methods used to control pest includes: Developing new crop variety, Crop rotation, rouging etc.
ECONOMIC CLASSIFICATION OF CROPS
· Cereal or Grain crops: Cereals are grasses grown for their edible seeds, the term cereal being applied either to the grain or to the plant itself. Cereals include wheat, oats, barley, rice, maize, sorghum, millets, etc.
· Root and tuber crops: These include sugar beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, potatoes and cocoyam.
· Legumes: These include groundnuts, cowpeas, soybeans, lima beans, and pigeon peas. They all belong to the family Leguminosae and are grown for their edible seeds.
· Oil crops: The oil crops include soybean, peanuts (groundnuts), sunflower, safflower, sesame, castor bean, mustard, cotton seed, corn and grain sorghum, and flax.
· Vegetable crops: This group includes potatoes, tomatoes and onions.
· Fiber crops: These are grown for their fiber. They include cotton, jute, kenaf, hemp, ramie and sisal.
· Sugar crops: These are crops that are grown for their sweet juice from which sucrose is extracted and crystallized. They include sugarcane and sugar beet.
· Forage crops: These are vegetable matters fresh or preserved that are utilized as feeds for animals. They include grasses, legumes, crucifers and other cultivated crops.
· Rubber crops/latex crops: These crops which include Para rubber, are grown for the milky sap, or latex which they produce.
· Beverage crops: These crops are also sources of stimulants. They include tea, coffee and cocoa.
The production requirement and useful guidelines on some of the crops grown in Nigeria are discussed in full details. These are: CASSAVA, GROUNDNUT, TOMATO, Cashew, Maize, Soybean, Rice, Oil palm, Cotton, Yam, Cocoa
 Birkeland, Peter W. Soils and Geomorphology. 3rd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
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