ROTATIONS  COMPARED


LABOUR REQUIREMENTS

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THE ROTATIONS COMPARED

CHAPTER HEADING

SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

Soil erosion is the main sustainability issue for farming in the cereal zone of
the WANA region. The impact of the four rotations on soil erosion is
examined.

The possible benefits of moisture storage still lingers on as an issue with
many farmers. This chapter shows how moisture storage (if it occurs) cannot justify the use of a long cultivated fallow.

Costs and returns are the major determinants of farmers profits. The cost of production for each rotation is examined both for small and large farmers.

Returns relate to the level of output and price. This chapter looks mainly at
output.

For small farmers with few resources and financial reserves risk is
particularly import. A balance needs to be struck between high profits and
risk.

Each rotation has an inherent level of weed control. Other weed control
measures can be applied (see later chapters) but the natural ability of the
rotation to "clean" the land or otherwise is an important part of the decision
making process.

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The amount of labour and the time it is used are an important aspect of each rotation.

This chapter looks at the capital requirements for each rotation but machinery is treated separately (see below)

Machinery is a special part of the general capital requirements. It is
particularly difficult for small farmers.

We have assumed that the starting point for most farmers is the growing of a cereal crop. We have examined the conflict between the requirement of the cereal crop and the new crop, new forage or pasture being introduced into the rotation.

Small farmers are resource poor. In this chapter we have selected the aspects of the above comparisons that would be appropriate for small farmers.

This chapter provide a framework for selecting a combination of the four
rotations and other variations.

The Zaghouan 4 rotation is not included in the comparison. It is an innovation from Tunisia that cleverly overcomes many of the problems of medic on small farms.

FOUR COMMON ROTATION ON THE GROUND IN THE WANA REGION

SEASON

ROTATIONS

CEREAL - FALLOW

CEREAL - MEDIC
( Traditional rotation)

CEREAL - VETCH

CEREAL - GRAIN
LEGUME.

AUTUMN

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

Cereal crop sown

WINTER

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

Cereal crop grows

SPRING

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

Cereal crop matures

SUMMER

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

Cereal crop harvested
Stubble grazed by livestock

AUTUMN

Weeds germinate naturally

Medic regenerates from seed
produced 18 months earlier.
No cultivation of the land required.

Land cultivated and sown to vetch or similar forage legumes.

Land cultivated and sown to grain legume such as lentils or
chick peas.

WINTER

Weeds grazed. Low stocking rate.

Medic pasture grazed. High stocking rate.

Grazed or more often left for hay.

Grain legumes grow.

SPRING

Land cultivated for fallow

Medic grazed. Pods produced for future regeneration.

Cut for hay.

Grain legumes mature.

SUMMER

Bare soil vulnerable to erosion.

Pods and stubble grazed.

Stubble grazed.

Grain legumes harvested.

Stubble grazed.

AUTUMN

Cereal cycle begins again.

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

Cereal cycle begins again

  The drive for mechanisation
 

    The reduction of labour usage through mechanisation, plant breeding and other means has been one of the fundamental objectives of modern agricultural development throughout the 20th century. The developed regions of Europe, America and Australia have adopted the idea that reduced labour requirements are "a good thing" and it is rarely discussed and never justified.

In the WANA region most countries have reasonably large rural populations as well as large numbers of unemployed in crowded cities. Investment in mechanisation and the reduction of labour in agriculture is more difficult to justify.

For example in Algeria there has been a considerable investment in mechanisation over the last several decades. In fact on raw figures for tractors and harvesters Algeria is comparable to Australia. There is a large rural population and a shortage of work so this expenditure cannot be justified in same way as the developed countries where the displaced labour usually finds employment in industry and farming costs are reduced.

Algerian policy makers hoped that mechanisation would improve production. They felt believed that mechanisation of cultivation and seeding would mean more crops were sown early and would yield more. They believed that mechanised harvesting of cereals would reduce losses.

In fact the decision to adopt deep ploughing has had a negative impact on yields and the poor choice of harvesting machinery has resulted in high levels of harvest loss.

Labour costs on small farms

Conventional economists have found it difficult to handle the cost of labour on small farms in the WANA region. Most small farms have a surplus of labour with a low opportunity cost. There are few opportunities for this labour to be used elsewhere on the farm or employed off the farm. A small return from this labour is obviously better than no return at all.
 

  The livestock enterprise.

    The livestock enterprise provides the greatest contrast with western-style economies. The dominant model for sheep and cattle production in WANA is grazing with shepherds.

This is a form of agriculture that has totally disappeared in the northern temperate regions. Many western trained technicians in the WANA region find it an embarrassing relic of folk farming and assume that it will fade away. During our 30 years of experience in the region it has shown no sign of disappearing and is still the most common model for sheep and cattle production.

If one costs the labour required for controlling the grazing of a small flock of sheep or a few cattle at usual wage rates it is obviously uneconomic to produce sheep or cattle in this way.

Farmers continue to keep flocks and rather than trying to persuade them that it is too expensive a more fruitful approach is to increase the number of animals so the labour produces a better return.

    As far as the four rotation are concerned:

    * The cereal-fallow rotation provides very little for livestock. The livestock consume the waste products of the rotation - the weeds and the stubble.

    * The cereal - grain legume rotation is similar. The waste from the grain legume phase is better quality than cereal stubble but the rotation provides nothing for the flock during the winter and spring.

    * The cereal - vetch rotation can be used for livestock or the sale of hay.

    * The cereal - medic rotation is primarily for livestock.

The medic provides good grazing in autumn, winter and spring.

The pods are grazed in summer.

The medic pods complements the cereal stubble in summer.

The harvested straw is used in winter in combination with green medic.

The first stage of increased productivity for livestock is greater efficiency. That is increased weight of animals sold, more rapid growth of animals for sale, lower death rates and higher lambing percentage.

Once these efficiency improvements have been achieved the flock can be expanded if sufficient feed is available and provided the risks are not too great.

    * The Zaghouan 4 rotation swings the balance even further towards livestock with cereal production remaining steady and cereal profits increasing considerable.

Livestock on small farms

        Small farmers use a considerable amount of labour (on a per animal basis) for shepherding of flocks or sheep or cattle. The numbers of livestock are small (10 to 20 sheep or perhaps 2 or 3 cattle) on these farms.

The animals are taken to graze on pasture or stubble once or twice a day by members of the farm family. Some economists have claimed that the cost of keeping livestock is extremely high (the full market cost of labour has been charged against the livestock enterprise) and this form of grazing enterprise has no long term future. In spite of these claims of low profitability farmers continue to graze in this way.

    Alternatively the labour can be considered as an overhead cost of the farm family. If this method of accounting is used, improving efficiency and expanding the sheep flock or cattle numbers is extremely profitable. The existing numbers cover the overheads and the extra output and later extra numbers can be produced for little more than the cost of the pasture. The increase in family income is substantial indeed.

    There are limits to the size of a flock that can be handled by a single shepherd. Most people consider this to be 150 to 200 sheep. For small farmers this limit will not be reached even when pastures on the fallow and parcour are improved. For larger farmers more shepherds will need to be employed. The returns from 150 to 200 sheep are adequate to provide the wages of a shepherd and good profits to the farmer.

    Medic pasture on the fallow and the parcour will increase livestock production at low cost. Farmers can also extend their rotations to include more than one year of medic. Instead of the classic cereal - medic rotation they can lengthen it to cereal - medic - medic or even longer. This may be more profitable than growing cereals for small farmers dependent on contractors.

    If in the future, farm families find other work opportunity outside the farm and are no longer prepared to guard the livestock for long periods every day it is easy to convert the system to fenced grazing using cheap portable electric fences. The sheep can still be taken to pasture and returned every night but are left to graze without supervision in between.
 

 The cereal enterprise.
 

    *  Those farmers with tractors and machinery

    Farmers who have tractors and machinery and use family labour are in a similar position as above. The variable costs of cultivation and seeding are low because most of the cost are borne as overheads. The purchase of the tractor, the depreciation and the labour are all farm overheads. The cost of cultivation is only fuel costs, oil and wear of the tyres. These farmers will consider cereal, vetch and grain legumes favourably as it enables them to convert their overheads into cash returns.

    * Those without tractors and machinery

    Small farmers will use contractors or perhaps animal traction. Contractors provide the tractors and machinery and the operators. Small farmers with a surplus of labour are therefore paying for more labour to operate the tractors and harvesters because contractors are not prepared to allow their machines to be hired without an operator.

Farmers without tractors and machinery will be reluctant to pay cash for these services. If the crop fails they still pay the contractor. They will favour medic pasture for livestock which requires no cultivation after an initial establishment.

If pods are used rather than traditional seeding methods no tractors are needed to establish a medic pasture. It can be done with family labour alone.

    Animal traction is sometime used on small farms but has declined considerably over the last 25 year due to the high value of livestock. A well fed traction animal is the equivalent of ten sheep. Farmers has realised the opportunity costs of animal traction can be high when the returns from sheep are so good.

    * Share cropping

    Share cropping is almost universally condemned because of the historical association with the exploitation of small share-croppers by large land-owners. In modern farming it has a place. An arrangement between a farmer without a tractor and a contractor (perhaps his neighbour) to sow and harvest a crop on shares provides an opportunity to share the risk. Standard agreements arbitrated by farmers' associations can provide fairness to both sides. Share cropping divides the risk between the farmer and the contractor but does not solve the problem of the small farmer employing additional labour when there is already a surplus on the farm.

    * Machinery co-operatives.

    Past attempts to provide large scale co-operative or government organised machinery services in the WANA region have not been a great success.

These provided a contracting service and the small farmer still paid for additional labour. Often the costs were subsidised but this was offset by the fact that the organisations were large. Administration costs were high and as they were centralised in major towns travel time to the farm caused additional costs and delays.

    Most of these machinery pools have been abandoned.

Small informal machinery co-operatives already exist among family members.

There are possibilities that these small co-operatives formed around a single tractor and set of machinery could be extended to groups who are not all related by family. These small co-operatives in effect allow the farmer to hire or rent the machinery without paying the cost of an operator. The farmer operates the tractor himself. The machinery groups must be small as the members need to trust each other to care for the machines and not damage them.

    Other arable enterprises

    The cereal - vetch and cereal - grain legume rotations also require considerable amounts of farm machinery time. For a farmer who has purchased a tractor which may be under-utilised they provide an excellent opportunity to earn additional income. For small farmers they are similar to the cereal enterprise. That is the small farmer is employing more labour with the machinery and undertaking more risk if the crops fail.

    In the section on conflict with cereals we point out that that vetch and grain legumes are in direct competition with cereals for crucial cultivating and seeding time in the autumn.

All crops should be sown as soon as possible once reasonable weed control has been achieved. Later sowing reduces output. One option is for tractors to be used for longer hours during the night. Operators can work longer but more labour may be needed.