The persistent shortage of feeding materials for livestock especially during the dry season opens a sound opportunity for making money selling Boma Rhodes grass hay. The high productivity and quality per unit area of boma rhodes make it the grass of choice for both the large and small-scale farmers.
In short Rhodes grass is the most important pasture grass in Kenya due to its ease in establishment and management. In Kenya there are major suppliers of rhodes grass hay which they also export to other countries.
Other than storing the grass for use during the dry season, you can make hay for sale irrespective of whether you have animals or not. The size of the farm may not be important although the bigger the farm the higher the profit arising from economies of scale. One can start with half acre if the land is too limiting. There are plenty of idle lands lying around whose absentee farmers do not know what to do with. Some of the reasons arise out of the demands by other crop productions which always require that they are around most of the time to monitor their progress and take action where appropriate.
Boma rhodes production and hay making for sales can easily be practiced by such farmers because the methods of pasture establishment and propagation demand less capital. First you need to prepare a good seedbed by ploughing and harrowing twice for virgin lands. On a previously cropped land you will need to plough and harrow just once before the beginning of the long rains.
Sowing should be done very early, usually in April, so that weeds do not overtake the germinating seeds. Others prefer to sow during the short rains to take care of weeds. Drilling is preferred because it ensures that the seeds are buried and distributed uniformly and others are not left on the surface to dry as in broadcasting. The seed is first pelleted for them to flow readily during drilling, which is done at a rate of 0.5-1 kg/ha in rows 30 – 40 cm apart. The seed is best sown on the surface not deeper than 2 cm followed by rolling. For broadcasting, the seed is best mixed with sawdust or sand. Seeds germinate in 1-7 days and seedlings develop rapidly.
Apply fertilizer or manure during planting to promote strong root development. Recommended fertilizer are SSP at 2-4 bags/ha or SSP or DAP at 1-2 bags/ha. If manure, broadcast at 10 ton/ha and harrow before planting.
Returns depend on how effectively you manage the pasture stand. The most important is weed control. Of course grazing should not be allowed as this will deplete the crop. While the numerous fungi and nematodes have been isolated from the grass, they rarely have any economic impact. Control the weeds during the first year by hand weeding or by use of herbicides. In subsequent years, keep fields clean by slashing, hand pulling or mowing of weeds.
During the establishment year soil nitrogen is adequate for grass productivity. Additional nutrients in the form of inorganic fertilizer or farmyard manure are required in subsequent seasons. Topdress grass with 5-7 bags CAN or ASN per ha per year in 3 splits during the rain season or 5-10 tons of farmyard manure. Topdress with 2 bags SSP or 1 bag of TSP per ha per year in addition to the nitrogen fertilizers after the establishment year in areas with phosphate deficiencies. Nitrogen fertilizer can be applied one or two months before the dry season in order to increase yields during the dry season.
DM yields generally range from about (2-) 10-25 t/ha, depending on soil fertility , environmental conditions, and cutting frequency. Yields in the second year may be double those of the establishment year, but this also depends on management and environmental conditions. While yields of 35-60 t/ha DM are reported, these are not the norm.
Cost of establishment
|Seeds @ Kshs. 1,000 per Kg||1,000|
|2 bags DAP @ Kshs. 3,000 per bag||6,000|
|5 bags CAN @ Kshs 2,700 per bag||13,500|
|Harvesting labor charges||3,000|
|400 bales per hectare per harvest|
|Harvest 3 times a year 1,200 bales|
|Sales @ Kshs 200 per bale||240,000|
As you can see, profit in the first year is Kshs. 185,500. This profit can significantly increase the following year because there will be no cost on crop establishment and yields may double. Maintenance and harvesting will be the recurring cost in the second and third year. After the third year yields diminish and it is better to remove the crop.