Best Agribusiness ideas in Soil and Plant Nutrition
Good soil and crop nutrition are important for sustainable and high crop yields.
With poor extension services in the country, most smallholder farmers lack access to the right information and technologies to improve and maintain quality soil health. This has led to over-farming and poor farming practices. The result has been deficient soil that lacks crucial nutrients and organic matter. Such soil can not retain soil ample moisture and its structure is destroyed.
To improve yields, farmers use acidic fertilizers, Its overuse leads to soil acidity. The other option is applying raw manure. Its use can lead to an increase in nematodes and other soil pests and diseases affecting plants’ health and yields.
Related: How to Test your Soil PH at home-DIY
If farmers have to farm commercially, they need reliable produces and information in tackling the above challenges. Luckily, these can be exploited as profitable agribusiness ideas by investors. This article explores some of these entrepreneurship ideas to improve and maintain fertile soils. They include;
- Soil testing & Analysis services.
- Selling agricultural lime.
- Distributing organic, foliar and crop-specific fertilizers.
- Compost and sell treated manure.
- Offer Soil management research and consulting services.
- Sell digital soil testing kits online
Soil testing (Analysis) services
This involves a bundle of services that may include either or all the following services.
- Collecting soil samples
- Undertaking soil testing using hand-held dry scanners or wet (lab) soil analysis usually done in a lab
- Interpreting soil status including Acidity (PH), macro and microelements (N, P, K) levels and organic matter content and nutrient need to improve your soil health.
- Giving farmers recommendations on proper products (fertilizers types and blends, application rates) to satisfy their soil nutrient needs and suitable crops to grow (variety and types).
While dry scanning results are usually instant and cheap, it limits them in parameters analysis and details. Wet testing provides detailed results, takes comparatively longer time to provide and somewhat costly.
The prevailing cost of conducting soil analysis is Sh 800-1200 depending on whether analysis of soil samples are on-site or delivered to soil testing centres.
Besides soil analysis services, entrepreneurs also can venture into.
- Collecting soil samples from farmers, delivering to testing centres and delivering results to farmers at a fee.
- Importing soil testing kits and selling them to agro-dealers and agribusiness entrepreneurs for a profit.
- Sourcing fertilizers, certified seeds, and agrochemicals as recommended by soil analysis results and delivering them to farmers at a commission from agro vets shops and input suppliers.
- Creating awareness in the importance of soil testing and get paid a referral fee for each consumer or farmer who undertakes soil analysis from a certain service provider.
Sale of agricultural lime
According to a 2014 soil study report, 43% of soil samples in Kenya are outside the optimum PH. range of 5.0-8.0 conducive for maize growing. Most of these samples were from western, Nyanza, Rift valley and coastal regions heavy acidity heavily affected which. Maize yields in these areas are as low as 1ton/ha against a potential of 6 tons/ha. Acidic soils are because of:
- Over-application of acidic based fertilizers reducing soil PH.
- Naturally occurring soil acidity because of climate or soil type by formation.
Agricultural lime is one of the major solutions to soil acidity. Apart from raising the soil PH levels, the agricultural lime application reduces the solubility of toxic elements and increases the availability of plant nutrients. Lime helps in biological nitrogen fixation in legume plants and improves the general microbial activity in the soil.
Agricultural lime is a calcium-rich product processed from limestone, gypsum or dolomite, the same raw material used in the manufacture of construction cement. Depending on processing steps, a cement company can be a producer and distributor of agricultural lime. Though the use of the product among the small-scale farmers is taking the track, it is still negligible. Therefore, there is a huge market potential for its manufacture and distribution in the country.
The existing business ideas for agricultural lime include;
- Stocking and distributing agricultural lime to small-scale farmers in appropriate and affordable packages to target farmers.
- Sensitization programs to stockists and farmers to stock and use agricultural lime for improved crop yields
- Offering complementary products and services under one roof such as soil analysis, certified seed and hermetic bags to farmers.
Distribution of organic and crop-specific fertilizers
Kenya’s application of fertilizers is still low. While the average historical application rate per acre in Kenya is around 14.8 kg, the global standard recommendation is 50 kg per acre. In 2012, Kenya’s average use of fertilizer was 44 kg per hectare whereas it was 62 kg, 164 kg and 182 kg in South Africa, India and Brazil respectively. The major reasons behind low fertilizer usage include:
- Affordability where most farmers report the prevailing prices are high with national and county governments stepping in through subsidization.
- Supply challenges where a farmer cannot access fertilizers when and where needed
- Inadequate information on fertilizer blending and usage.
- Inappropriate packaging with most suppliers packaging 50 kg bags whereas farmers would desire 25 kg, 10 kg, 5 kg, 2kg and 1kg depending on affordability and land size.
Fertilizers help in maintaining and improving soil nutrients, enhancing crop yields. Kenyan fertilizer market has over 20 brands and blends. These are conventional (chemical) fertilizers such as CAN, DAP, Urea. Additional blends are gaining market share and they include crop-specific, organic and foliar fertilizers.
Manufacturing of bulk fertilizers is overseas, we import them in bulk, blend and bag them for distribution to small-scale farmers. The distribution can either be through;
- Government subsidies where mostly it does not benefit the targeted farmers
- Commercial distribution among over 8000 Agro-dealers and traders. Apart from it being expensive, there are many instances of mishandling and quality compromise
As an entrepreneur, solving any of the above challenges would benefit farmers, some avenues one can venture into include;
- Sourcing and supplying basic based fertilizers in farms or regions with high acidic soils.
- Supplying acidifying fertilizers in highly alkaline soils.
- Distributing crop and/ or region-specific fertilizers such as selling potato fertilizers in Nyandarua County or rice fertilizers in Kirinyaga County.
- Marketing organic fertilizers to promote safe agriculture.
- Delivering foliar fertilizers and growth boosters.
- Setting up fertigation infrastructure for medium farms
- Advising farmers and stockists on cheap sourcing and use of fertilizers
Distribution of treated manure and compost
A 2014 study on soils in Kenya found out that 89% of soils lack in organic matter. Regular application of compost and manure maintains and sustain organic matter content in the soil. A soil with higher organic matter content has higher microbial activities ensuring high soil nutrient and hence better higher crop yields.
Most small-scale farmers are mixed farmers practising crop farming and animal husbandry. Most of those use farm manure from their animals to improve soil fertility. Crop farmers lack an immediate source of manure and compost.
Most farmers use raw manure which has several environmental concerns. Phosphorus stimulates algae to grow in water bodies. Nitrogen which converts into Nitrates that can contaminate groundwater through leaching. If consumed by pregnant women and children, it may cause health implications. Another major challenge with untreated manure is its unpleasant odour. Other challenges associated with raw manure is its bulkiness affecting transport.
There are many business opportunities for making and distribution both compost and manure as follows;
- Making or producing compost/ manure from animal and crop wastes, yard waste and food scraps.
- Stocking manure and compost heaps from high production areas to areas with high demand
- Running a manure treatment plant
- Offer compost spreading services
- Specializing in making high-value manure and organic fertilizers from poultry, aloe Vera, rabbit’s urine among others
Soil consultancy and advisory services
Soil management is a science and an art. There are a few professionals who are highly knowledgeable and possess rich expertise in soil management practices. These include zero tillage, crop rotation, conservation agriculture, promoting soil fertility, controlling soil erosion, etc.
Professional soil managers can engage in profitable businesses in:
- Running a Soil consultancy service business to guide farmers on soil management and Good agricultural practices.
- Packaging and dissemination of soil management information in print and electronic media at a profit.
- Sensitization of farmers on proper soil inputs and soil management practices for a fee