The exclusive focus of this article is the harvesting of cassava. As always harvesting is central to ultimate yields thus extreme care must be taken. Broadly there are 3 main options when it comes to harvesting cassava namely, manual, semi-manual, and fully mechanized. The outstanding differences in those 3 options can be seen in the number of hands required for each. For instance let us consider 1 hectare of cassava crops. If you are to manually harvest you might need as many as 50 labourers. Yet for fully mechanized you might need just around 4 people. Anyways, let us look at more details regarding cassava harvesting.
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When To Start Harvesting Cassava
When looking at cassava one crop that comes to mind is beetroot. Harvesting principles are somewhat similar especially regarding when to harvest. For instance, cassava should not be harvested too early or too late. Harvesting too early might lead to lesser yields and unripe cassava. If you wait too long the crop becomes too hard and less likely to be bought. Pertaining to which time of the day or which time in general, it should be when weather conditions are predominantly dry – not too dry though, lest the soil becomes rock solid. This makes it easy because soil would just crumble off the tubers as they are uprooted which is not the case when the soil is wet.
Typically, harvesting time for cassava starts at around 7 months after planting. The average maturation time is 1 year. For commercial purposes, especially cassava meant to be sold to manufacturers it must be harvested when it has reached anything between one and half years to one year 8 months. It is said that at such stages the cassava would have developed substantial tuber sizes and starch levels.
Approaches To Harvesting Cassava
In our introduction we mentioned the 3 broad options available when it comes to harvesting cassava. Apparently fully mechanized harvesting would be most preferable. However, that is a relatively fallow domain because mechanical harvesting implements are still being explored and developed. This leaves us with two options namely, semi-manual and manual harvesting – commonly used options. Manual harvesting requires around 50 or even more labourers for a single hectare.
Semi-manual harvesting deals with the use of various kinds of implements (usually hand-held) that reduce the effort used during the harvesting process. Though mechanized harvesting significantly reduces labour requirements some form of manual labour will still be needed for certain aspects. One of the greatest things about mechanized harvesting is that it prepares the land for the upcoming crop during the process of harvesting. It is akin to literally killing two birds with one stone.
How Harvesting Cassava Is Done
Manual harvesting generally involves pulling out the cassava plants from the ground. That is usually done by grabbing the plant by the stem. Then once the roots (essentially, the tubers) are out, soil is shaken off and the roots are detached from the stem. Others do this differently in that they can remove the top part of the plant before uprooting the plants. Then they will dig out the roots using hand-held implements such hoes. Evidently this option is extremely labour-intensive – though it is the most commonly used. Generally, the hand-held implements are used to loosen up the soil so that pulling out is made easier. In principle, manual and semi-manual harvesting are the most common approaches. Why?
Why Mechanized Harvesting Is Not That Common
The foremost reason stems from the fact that extreme care must be taken when harvesting cassava. If the roots (i.e. tubers) are damaged in any way, that compromises their quality and ability to stay fresh for long. This is why mechanized machinery for harvesting cassava is still a budding area. Research and development is still being done to come up with the best machinery for the job. Cassava in one field can grow to varying depths which means if a harvester machine digs through it will most likely cut through some of the tubers. Basically that is the challenge with the mechanized harvesting option.
Then there are issues of availability and cost. Mechanized machinery for harvesting cassava is not yet mainstream. Thus it is only available in few places in the world. That coupled with the fact that one might have to source such machinery from far translates into costs. Ultimately that is why people end up settling for manual or semi-manual harvesting. The most important thing is to ensure that good quantity and good quality yields are produced.
As soon as you harvest you have at most 3 days i.e. get the cassava to the consumer within that time frame. Cassava spoils quickly so do not take any chances. Interestingly cassava remains good and fresh as long as it is in the ground. Cassava starts deteriorating within just a day after being harvested – this is even exacerbated if the tubers have any cuts or lacerations during harvesting. The moment you step beyond the 3-day mark, microbes further damage the tubers rendering them unsellable. If you want to store your cassava for a stretch then it all starts with cautious harvesting so that there is no damage at all. Storage-wise you can keep tubers in the soil, regularly sprinkling water on the harvested tubers, keeping them submerged in water or smearing them with mud. Basically anything that helps preserve moisture is what is needed.
As is apparent from what we have discussed there are balances that must be struck. Cassava is a sensitive crop when it comes to the shelf life of its freshness. Cassava can stay fresh for only up to 3 days so after harvesting there must be a seamless framework to ensure it gets to the consumer whilst still fresh. Regarding yields per hectare we are looking at an average range spanning from 5 to 90 tonnes per hectare. High yields are characteristic of hybrid varieties coupled with optimum conditions. Did you know that cassava is regarded as the third most important food crop in the world?