Finger Millet: A Valuable Crop for Food and Brewing
Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana)
Finger millet, scientifically known as Eleusine coracana, is an annual grass belonging to the Poaceae family. It is cultivated primarily for its grain, which has various applications in food and brewing. Additionally, the straw of finger millet serves as a valuable animal feed.
Characteristics and Growth
Finger millet is a resilient grass that grows in clusters and has upright, light green stems. The leaves are dark green, long, and mostly smooth with some hair along the edges. The inflorescence of finger millet consists of cluster-like structures called “fingers,” which contain dense spikelets where the grains or seeds develop. This grass can reach a height of 1.7 meters and is typically harvested after one growing season.
Importance of Finger Millet Farming in Kenya
Finger millet farming plays a crucial role in the agricultural sector of Kenya, particularly in Western Kenya.
Varieties of Finger Millet
Several finger millet varieties are cultivated, including:
1. P224: This variety has brown seeds, usually tall and uniform in height. It is resistant to lodging (falling over) and blast disease. P224 takes approximately 3-4 months to mature.
2. Katumani: Katumani is a red-seeded variety that is relatively short and drought-tolerant. It reaches maturity in around 3 months.
3. U-15, Gulu, and Okahale-1: These are new and improved finger millet varieties known for their higher yields, drought tolerance, and resistance to striga weed and blast disease.
Finger millet adapts well to a wide range of environmental and climatic conditions. It thrives at higher elevations compared to other tropical cereals and can tolerate salinity better than most cereals. Finger millet prefers an environment with moderate rainfall (approximately 750-900mm) and an annual temperature range of 15-28°C. It grows best in fertile, well-draining sandy loam soil with a pH between 5 and 8. Areas with low rainfall and low relative humidity during seed ripening and maturation are ideal for regeneration.
Planting Finger Millet
Sowing finger millet seeds can be done through broadcasting (scattering the seeds) or planting them in furrows. The seedbed should be well-prepared to a fine tilth since the seeds are tiny. The recommended planting depth is 2.5 cm, with 25 cm spacing between rows and 10-12 cm spacing between plants. Early planting at the beginning of the rainy season leads to higher yields. Finger millet can be cultivated as a pure stand or intercropped with other crops like maize, beans, and cowpeas.
Thinning is necessary when finger millet seedlings are around 2-3 weeks old. It involves removing excess plants to ensure proper air circulation within the crop, promoting optimal growth and performance. Leaving approximately 10 cm spacing between plants and a minimum of 40 plants per accession is recommended.
Supplemental watering may be necessary if the soil lacks sufficient moisture, especially during the flowering stage. Adequate moisture during this period is crucial for successful pollination and grain development.
Common weeds found in finger millet fields are Eleusine Africana and Eleusine Indica. These weeds closely resemble the crop during its early growth stages, making them difficult to distinguish. Applying CLAMPDOWN 480SL at a rate of 200ml/20l before planting helps eliminate weed growth and reduces weed competition throughout the cropping season. For selective control of broadleaved weeds, AGROMINE 860SL at a rate of 150ml/20l can be applied when the crop reaches a height of approximately 30cm.
Pests and Disease Management
Several pests pose threats to finger millet crops:
1. Cutworms: These pests are black or brown in color and sever young plants at or just below the soil level, leading to plant death. Treating seeds with SHIELD 600FS at a rate of 3ml/kg and drenching the soil with PROFILE 440EC at a rate of 60ml/20l or PENTAGON 50EC at a rate of 20ml/20l can help control cutworm infestations.
2. Chafer grubs: Whitish C-shaped caterpillars found in the soil, which feed on the roots and may kill young seedlings. Treating seeds with SHIELD 600FS at a rate of 3ml/kg and drenching the soil with RANGER 480SL at a rate of 60ml/20l or PROFILE 440EC at a rate of 60ml/20l or LOYALTY 700WDG at a rate of 10g/20l can help manage chafer grubs.
3. Stem borers: The larvae of stem borers feed on the crop’s funnels and developing tissues, causing stunted growth and damaged ear heads. Spraying the crop with KINGCODE ELITE 50EC at a rate of 10ml/20l or PROFILE 440EC at a rate of 30ml/20l or LEXUS 247SC at a rate of 8ml/20l can control stem borers.
4. Shoot fly: Shoot fly larvae enter the crop’s funnels and feed on young shoots, causing “dead heart” and affecting tillers. Similar to stem borers, spraying the crop with KINGCODE ELITE 50EC at a rate of 10ml/20l or PENTAGON 50E at a rate of 10ml/20l or LEXUS 247SC at a rate of 8ml/20l can help manage shoot fly infestations.
5. Midge: Midge larvae feed on developing grains, causing them to shrink and flatten. Spraying the crop with LOYALTY 700WDG at a rate of 5g/20l or EMERALD 200SL at a rate of 10ml/20l can control midge infestations.
6. Armyworms: Highly destructive pests that eat away at the crop’s leaves, causing defoliation. Spraying the crop with SINOPHATE 750SP at a rate of 40g/20l or KINGCODE ELITE 50EC at a rate of 10ml/20l or LEXUS 247SC at a rate of 8ml/20l can help manage armyworm infestations.
7. Aphids: Aphids suck plant sap from ear heads or the undersides of leaves, leading to stunted growth, leaf drying, and reduced yield. Spraying the crop with KINGCODE ELITE 50EC at a rate of 10ml/20l or LEXUS 247SC at a rate of 8ml/20l or PENTAGON 50EC at a rate of 10ml/20l can help control aphids. Additionally, spraying JAMBO CLEAN at a rate of 100ml/20l can clean sooty mold caused by aphid infestation.
8. Earhead bugs: These pests feed on developing kernels by sucking the juice from within the grains. Infested grains become shriveled and discolored. Spraying the crop with EMERALD 200SL at a rate of 10ml/20l or LOYALTY 700WDG at a rate of 5g/20l or PRESENTO 200SP at a rate of 5g/20l can control earhead bugs.
Finger millet can be susceptible to various diseases:
1. Damping off: This disease causes seed rot and rotting of seedlings emerging from the soil. Drenching the soil with PYRAMID 700WP at a rate of 100g/20l can help control damping off.
2. Cercospora leaf spot: Small, dark lesions appear on the leaves, stems, and may have spores during wet weather. Spraying the crop with RANSOM 600WP at a rate of 15g/20l or DUCASSE 250EC at a rate of 20ml/20l or JUPITER 125SC at a rate of 15ml/20l can control cercospora leaf spot.
3. Blast: This disease forms elliptical or diamond-shaped lesions on leaves, surrounded by a chlorotic halo. Spraying the crop with CHARIOT 500SC at a rate of 20ml/20l or RANSOM 600WP at a rate of 15g/20l or DUCASSE 250EC at a rate of 20ml/20l can help manage blast.
4. Rust: Small yellow or white spots develop on both upper and lower leaf surfaces, enlarging into red-brown pustules. Spraying the crop with RANSOM 600WP at a rate of 15g/20l or EXEMPO CURVE 250SC at a rate of 15ml/20l or MILESTONE 250EC at a rate of 10ml/20l can control rust.
5. Downy mildew: Infected plants exhibit twisted, pale green leaves with bumpy surfaces. Spraying the crop with GEARLOCK TURBO 250WP at a rate of 25g/20l or FORTRESS GOLD 720WP at a rate of 40g/20l or TOWER 720WP at a rate of 50g/20l can control downy mildew.
Nutrition and Nutritional Deficiencies
To maximize crop production, finger millet requires sufficient nutrients. The amount of fertilizer needed depends on the soil’s fertility. It is recommended to apply both basal and foliar fertilizers.
Basal Fertilizers: Mixing DAP, CAN, NPK, or similar fertilizers with HUMIPOWER at a ratio of 50:1 during application is advised.
Foliar Fertilizers: Spraying OPTIMIZER, LAVENDER, GOLDCHANCE SERIES, or other foliar fertilizers helps provide the necessary macro and micro elements required for plant growth and development. Timely application of foliar fertilizers is essential.
Nutritional Deficiencies and Their Corrections
1. Nitrogen Deficiency: Plant growth is significantly reduced, and leaves turn yellow, starting with the older ones. Stunted growth occurs due to nitrogen deficiency. Corrective measures include using LAVENDER or GOLDCHANCE SUPER GROWTH.
2. Phosphorus Deficiency: Plants become dark green, and leaves display reddish-purple discoloration, starting with the older leaves. Stunted growth is a common symptom of phosphorus deficiency. Corrective measures include using DIMIPHITE, GREENPHITE, or LAVENDER.
3. Potassium Deficiency: Leaves show marginal chlorosis and necrosis, starting from the older leaves to the younger ones. Severe cases of potassium deficiency lead to stunted growth. Corrective measures include using DIMIPHITE, GREENPHITE, or LEGENDARY.
4. Zinc Deficiency: Leaves develop yellow bands that turn pale brown or gray. This symptom begins with young leaves and progresses to older ones. Corrective measures include using ZINC GOLD.
When performing any foliar spray, it is recommended to mix the product (insecticide, fungicide, foliar feed, or herbicide) with INTEGRA at a rate of 3ml/20l. INTEGRA is a sticker, spreader, and penetrant that enhances the effectiveness of the product.
Maturity, Harvest, and Postharvest Handling
Finger millet is typically ready for harvest within 3.5 to 5 months after sowing, depending on the variety. Harvesting can be done manually by cutting the seed heads or by harvesting the entire plant. In large-scale farming, combine harvesters are often used. The harvested heads are dried, threshed, and winnowed. Afterward, the grains are dried further and stored in bags in a dry location.