CORN ON CORN PROJECT IN AFRICA
It was 600-hectare corn on corn project in the center of Ghana. The customer requested to come over and address a multitude of problems with production on the farm. The location was an excellent spot for growing corn. The customer had plans of expanding this farm to 10,000 hectares of production.
1. There was a lack of knowledge and understanding of soil health, tillage practices, and basic agronomy.
2. The customer thought it was necessary to work the soil several times before planting, creating an extreme hard-pan 6” inches below the surface.
3. The seed quality was very poor. It is common in these regions for farmers to keep corn from the previous season to replant it.
4. Preparation and planning for the cropping season lacked - the project manager had lack of skills and foresight as to what was needed to complete a season in a well-planned approach.
5. The project manager was more concerned about expanding before understanding how to manage the existing hectares utilizing good agronomy practices and creating profitability.
6. Poor employee management skills - building a well-trained team of workers is imperative to the success of any project.
7. Lack of training for the staff.
8. Poor working conditions and wages for the staff.
9. A handout mentality instead of a business profitability approach.
10. Equipment was not maintained properly causing major delays in planting, spraying, and harvesting.
11. Contaminated supply of diesel causing equipment breakdowns.
12. Poor storage facilities and lack of understanding of how to properly store corn.
13. Rampant theft of spare and grains.
It was clear to us during the initial visit to review the needs of this project that our work was going to be cut out for our team.
While the project manager had his ideas, we knew these were not going to work so our first task was to teach him basic agronomy, soil fertility, plant health, seed genetics, chemical selection, nutrient management, financial management, how to properly plan, how to manage employees, and crop planning.
Our next task was to motivate the employees, train them in all equipment maintenance, equipment operations, equipment repair, educate them on planting rates, how to mix chemicals, how to handle chemicals safely, proper storage techniques, and many other on-farm functions a worker should do.
Upon working with the project manager and employees our next task was to add inventory for spare parts, the correct equipment for the job, make all settings on the equipment for proper operations. The planters in the previous four years had never been adjusted properly or maintained. We completely went through the planter and made all the adjustments. Calibrating sprayers and setting the harvester were also required as these had never been set properly from the time they had arrived.
Once we had these challenges addressed above the next step was to tackle the severe compaction and lack of nutrients in the soil. Using this opportunity to show the project manager how compacted and nutrient deficient the soil had become told most of the story of the poor equipment selection and management techniques that had been used in the past. With a rudimentary understanding by management, it was time to implement some soil improvement techniques.
In preparation for planting time, we created a crop plan, agronomy plan, and schedule for the first seasons planting. Again, we used basic easy instructions, so we were able to develop their understanding as we slowly improved and tweaked the processes to fit the skill set of employees working on this project.
Lastly, addressing storage and logistics was done. Teaching them how important aeration was for a region like this was important and designing a temporary type of storage that could handle the extreme heat here was necessary.
It is not uncommon to go into a project and find multiple issues with owners and project managers that commonly think farming is nothing more than putting the seed in the ground and waiting for it to grow then collect your profits.
While this project would not make the top of our list for successes there were small and major hurdles accomplished.
The employees were eager to learn and adapted the new ideas and approaches we taught them very quickly.
The soil compaction slowly started to get worked out, nutrient levels were coming back to optimum ranges for corn production, and temporary storage was put into place.
Root development improved dramatically, and the plants were much healthier by the end of the project.
As we neared the end of our time with this project it was apparent the project manager was too focused on finding money to build the farm as big as he could get it more than understanding the fundamentals of a farm and creating profitability. At times you will run into project managers or owners that are more concerned with their name in the community than their employees or being profitable.
It is imperative to know the goals of the owners and project managers. Knowing this will help you evaluate the situation better. Typically, when consultants are called in there are problems in the system. Identify these quickly so you know where to focus your attention on the future success of that project.
The on-farm workers were barely able to read and write English, through the years they learned how to along with learning proper equipment maintenance, GPS operations, proper crop storage, and basic agronomy skills.
It is one of the most rewarding parts of consulting on the project to build a team, empowering employees to achieve their best, and growing quality grains profitably.