I am a 3rd year student at Moi University,Main campus. I first tried my hand in open-air tomato farming in 2011, after I was done wiyh my secondary education and have always retained a permanent worker who is always at the farm. I have always considered frost the greatest threat to a bumper tomato harvest, up until my recent experience.
My latest venture was approximately 0.5 Acres of the ‘simlaw E.A’ variety which is not a high-breed variety but has been giving me good returns over the period I have been planting it. For this venture, I prepared a seed-bed for 100 grams which was excellent at this stage. I believe my land preparation was also good as I always follow a similar routine in tilling the land using a tractor pulled plough, usually 3-4 weeks before planting. I also harrow the farm, using a tractor to make the soil fine a week before transplanting. The holes for transplanting are done manually. I usually apply some fertilizer during transplanting and use a pump to irrigate during the dry season.
I prepared the seed bed around the 25th of April and transplanted on the 27th of may 2014. Having followed the above routine religiously, the initial stages of the tomatoes was very good. The plants were dark greenish, signifying healthy plants. A month and a half later I top dressed the plants with the Calcium Amonioum nitrate (C.A.N) fertilizer and sprayed the Easy Grow Fruit and Flower liquid fertilizer in adition to various other nitroginious liquid fertilizers. The crops were doing so well I started seeing a good harvest.
Frost being the biggest threat, I ensured that the crops were sprayed weekly using various preventive chemicals such as Milthane Super, Milor and even Oshothane. I ocassionaly applied pesticides after, say, three weeks. The tomatoes produced a lot of fruits per stem. They were large and of a good shape, despite a dry spell of about a month were our irrigation endeavours barely reduced the effect of the sun’s heat.
I was in school in early August when the first harvest was done which yielded a crate. The first crate is usually to pick the very first few fruits rather than let them rot or be spoiled by birds. The 2nd harvest the following week produced 3.5 crates and with a current price of shs. 3500 a crate, that was good money. I predicted a maximum harvest of 20 crates a week. However, this was not to be. The 3rd harvest only yielded 1.5 crates. I could not believe it and had to abandon classes to travel the 45 kilometers to the farm and confirm that I was not getting ripped off.
And true to my guy’s words, it was 1 ½ crates that the buyers were taking. What hurt most was that tomatoes amounting to approximately 14 crates had been discarded, according to the estimates of the casual workers who did the picking. On closer examination we saw the cause. Each and every healthy-looking fruit had a fat,squigy pest inside which had drilled a hole and made the inside of the fruit black and rotting. It wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. Upon investigation I realized that most of the neighbouring farms were affected and that the pests were not responding to any pesticides we know.
Right now the healthy crops have been reduced to a dry patch while other parts have bush overgrow in it. I thought maybe the wheat crop adjacent might have been the source but am now awaiting professional advice in order to plt my next move. For now, the only thing I can do is to count my losses and as the price of a single tomato fruit hits close to shs. 15, wonder what might have been
Brian Kigen. Tomato farmer, Iten
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KARI released a report on the above disease called tuta absoluta. Download it below