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Thursday, 21 April 2022 09:19

Maize harvesting and post harvest management Part 1

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Each season on the farm has its share of joy, but perhaps the most satisfying and heart-warming season is harvesting time. Months of labour and sweat culminate into a celebratory period which everyone was looking forward to.


However, if not well managed, the season can turn out to be the worst of all due to post harvest losses. Post-harvest losses occur after harvesting, in grading and storage facilities, during transportation and in the market. Some studies around the world have shown that farmers lose up to 50% of their crops to poor post-harvest management. The higher percentage being in storage facilities. There are so many reasons that result in these unwanted losses of which include pests & rodents, poor facilities, poor management, lack of technical know-how, market dysfunction and farmer negligence.


In this article we will discuss harvesting and post-harvest management. Cutting post-harvest losses ensures project viability and sustainability by increasing the enterprise profitability.

The Market requires supply of quality maize in desired quantities at desired time. Good quality maize attracts better market price that help farmers earn high income. Many times, farmer experience high losses of their quality maize right from harvesting to marketing. It is estimated that farmers lose up to 40% of their produce from harvesting to marketing as a result of poor postharvest handling practices which leads low quality of the maize. It is therefore crucial for farmers to adhere to good practices to maintain the quality of maize during harvesting and postharvest handling.

 

Harvesting
This is the process of detaching the maize cob from the mother plant after it has attained full physiological maturity. To ensure quality, harvesting should be carried out on time to avoid food losses and deterioration of quality.


Maize is harvested at different physiological stages depending on the intended use. When it is for fresh eating, it is harvested when the cob is green and the grains are beginning to harden. If it is meant for silage making, the whole plant is harvested at milk stage, and when it is meant for grain, it is harvested when it has dried and achieved full physiological maturity.

 

Maize Physiological Maturity: Is stage when the crop has achieved maximum growth and has the following indicators:
Maize stalk system and cob sheath turn brown
Ears begin to droop from the stalk and bend downwards depending on the variety
The grain is hard and has a floury texture when bitten.
If a moisture meter is available, the grain moisture content is between 18-24 per cent.
Grains form a black layer at kernel tip

Maize can be harvested manually or mechanically
Manual/ Hand harvesting.
This is the commonest method and is considered practicable
for crops of under 30 acres. It involves the use of the following techniques.
Pulling of ears from the stalk of the plant
Removal of the husks covering the ears
The activity requires 6-10 people per acre per day

Mechanized harvesting:
This is the harvesting of maize using machines (e.g. combine harvesters) and is suited for large commercial farms. Machines simultaneously harvest and remove ears, shells and do partial cleaning of the grain. It has an advantage of ensuring quality, reducing losses in addition to time and labour-saving.

Common practices to avoid during harvesting:
Premature/early harvesting: this results into shriveled and rotten maize.
Throwing cobs on the bare ground and use of dirty containers during harvesting. This increases risks of aflatoxin and other contaminants.
Late harvesting; leads to attack of pests, loss of grain and rotting.

Quality control measures (the DO’s) ALWAYS:
• Harvest grains when they are physiologically mature
• Harvest on time
• Use clean containers/bags to collect the cobs during harvesting
• Collect the cobs in the garden on a tarpaulin or mat

Postharvest handling practices are activities carried out immediately after harvesting and they include transportation, drying, threshing/shelling. Packaging and storage. Good PHH practices ensure that the harvested product reaches the consumers in the desired quality and quantity.

Transportation:
Maize is transported home for other activities to be carried out. Transportation is done on head, bicycle, motorcycle, vehicles, depending on the volumes.


Shelling
This is the process of separating the maize grain from the cobs. The process makes grain available for utilization (processing, consumption and marketing). During shelling, measures to minimize grain damage and grain loss should be put in place. Cobs that are well dried are easily shelled.

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