Various factors should be considered in crop selection. This is a requisite that must be undertaken before actually starting a farming venture. Even without a predetermined location and site of a farm, the crop to be grown can be decided though based mainly on its marketability and profitability.
However, there are many cases especially in countries with agriculture-based economy in which the farm lot is already available. It could have been acquired through inheritance, or by purchase, or otherwise transferred through other means. Whatsoever, crop and varietal selection is the first consideration in starting or developing the farm. Right decision in the selection of crop or crops to be grown, particularly perennial types, will ultimately convert into a successful farming venture.
1. Prevailing farm conditions. An environmental scanning should first be conducted. This involves a thorough ocular inspection and other methods to obtain information on the biotic factors that can affect plant growth and yield, soil and climatic conditions prevailing in the area, and accessibility. Here the guiding rule is: know your farm first then select the right crop.
The biotic factors refer to living organisms including ruminant animals, insect and other pests, disease pathogens and weeds, as well as organisms having beneficial effects like civet cat population for the production of civet coffee and the abundance of pollinators. Where there is prevalence of a disease in a locality, susceptible crops may be excluded or a resistant variety may be selected.
The topographic features of the land like elevation, slope, terrain and aspect (the direction that a sloping land faces); and the physical and chemical properties of the soil such as texture, color, organic matter content, pH and fertility levels will determine the crops that are naturally suited. Also, the various climatic factors, such as prevailing climate type, temperature, rainfall, relative humidity, incidence of light, and frequency of typhoons will limit the choice of crops. A stable supply of water within the farm will allow wide possibilities in crop selection.
In addition, the accessibility of the farm to and from the market will influence the choice of crops. For example, cassava and oil palm should be preferably grown in farms with good roads and as close as possible to the market because the harvest is bulky and must be transported immediately due to rapid rate of degradation. Having a farm-to-market road is likewise important in stocking the farm with supplies.
The crop(s) and the variety (ies) to be grown should be selected based on their adaptability to the prevailing conditions in the farm. A useful guide is to identify the crops growing in the farm and in the neighborhood. An interview of the neighboring farmers will also provide valuable information as to the probability of success, or failure, of growing certain preferred crops.
2. Marketability and profitability. For those who want to engage in cash crop farming or, at the least, ensure financial sustainability, crop selection must consider marketability and profitability. In general, this means that the crop to be selected must be high yielding. The product, be it the fruit, seed, modified root or stem, flower or foliage or any part, must have an accessible, stable and robust market. With efficient labor and use of inputs, the harvest will realize profit to finance the suceeding farm activities or generate substantial return on investment. However, market and price are dictated by many factors such as the number of competitors, supply and demand, development of new products, promotional campaign, and agribusiness cycle.
3. Resistance to pests and diseases. Regardless of the purpose of farming, it is important to be able to select a crop and variety with wide resistance to important pests and diseases. The use of susceptible varieties may result to high cost of production or, worst, total crop failure.
4. Available technology. The technology for the growing of the crop must have been well established or easy to learn and apply. Likewise, certain crops are preferred because technical assistance is available locally.
5. Farming system. Crop selection is affected by the system of farming employed, that is, whether purely crop farming or integrated with livestock animals. Likewise, the particular crop species to be grown will depend on the crop production practices such as monoculture, multiple cropping, hedge row-strip cropping, and planting patterns.
If there is a plan to integrate crop production with free-range livestock, or where entry of astray animals is unhampered, it would be wise to install tree guards or fences. However, additional cost can be eliminated or minimized by selecting crops that are less susceptible to nibbling. Some crops, like soursop (or guyabano) and sugar apple (or atis) have anti-herbivory properties. In intercropping, it is desirable that the component crops have complementary or mutualistic relation.
6. Security. In the absence of security personnel or where there is no fence that will exclude intruders, crop selection may be done in favor of those which are not susceptible of thievery. This will avoid such crops as vegetables and fruit crops which can be easily harvested for food and for cash.
7. Availability and cost of planting materials. These are important considerations especially among those who have limited capital. Take for example African oil palm. Even assuming that the projected return on investment is high and net profit can be realized in a short period of time, it would be difficult for small farmers to buy certified seedlings where the cost is about 10 times that of coconut. Plus the cost of hauling may be staggering.
Another is macapuno coconut. There are only a few tissue culture laboratories which propagate seedlings capable of producing up to 100% macapuno nuts per bunch and these laboratories may be too far away. The cost of producing seedlings being highly technical and costly, it is likewise expected that buying price would be too high. The last time that the herein author inquired, price per seedling was about 20 times more than that of normal coconut. This is one main reason why crop selection favors the normal varieties of coconut.
8. Availability and cost of labor. Where farm laborers, particularly in the community where the farm is located, are scant or cost is high, proper crop selection becomes more important. The need for farm workers should be a prime consideration because there is continuous need from land preparation to planting and up to harvest, post harvest, and marketing. For perennial crops, in fact, the work does not end with the first harvest but rather perpetually.
In such case, it may be preferable to select crops which do not require plenty of farm workers at regular basis. Or, at least, avoid those crops which are heavily dependent on regular labor, for example cacao over coffee or coconut.
Otherwise the farm becomes untended and the fruits rot or otherwise become waste. Likely an error in crop selection.
(Ben G. Bareja October 2011, edited Apr. 5, 2019)
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