Dear Louise,

I am sorry I don’t have evaporation figures for the last two weeks, mostly because I have been distracted – and because we have had enough rain to keep the evaporation pan overflowing most days. Sorry too that I did not get a blog out last week. My Internet connection is not what it used to be.

I am intrigued to know whether anyone has tried Hennie Swart’s method of putting tobacco into a 40 deg C high humidity Sauna for the first 24hrs. Impossible for me to do that in my tunnel or chongololo but, if I hear reports that it has made a dramatic improvement, we would at least know where to aim. Murray Green told me that the farmers they visited recently emphasized the need to hold it at 48 C for 48 hours. Again impossible to achieve in a tunnel; SLIGHTLY easier to achieve in a chongololo but not without an AWFUL lot of fiddling around. I have known for a long time that our continuous systems cannot cure as well as individual curers (especially in difficult years) but I keep hoping that the world will start to tax fossil fuels heavily so that these fuel efficient systems can come into their own.

I attended a Bee Course recently, not so much because I believe there is money to be made from bees, but because I wanted to learn how to remove two large swarms from my house! I think there IS a case for managing our bees a little better than we do, and there are now several people who can help you, should you have some problem bees.

Just as importantly, I was reminded of the services of PUM, a Dutch organisation that will arrange for retired experts (in any field) to come and give their advice. An excellent service and I believe Klaske Muijs is the current PUM co-ordinator.

Best4now, Bruce


Saved by the Bell

Dear Kathryn,

Evaporation 21 to 27 February, 5-1, 3-4, 4-14, 3-12, 3-20, 3, ?-60 Until these last few days I was heading for the driest total to the end of February in 65 years of records. As it is, even with that 60mm, the total is about 5th driest. I’m afraid Richard Duckett gets this year’s Sinner of the Year award as the Fates only sent him 3mm, left over from my 60mm. Hard to take.

I think I mentioned that Peterhouse is reputed to have had 500mm in one day and most of you will have seen Karin Cocker’s photos of the main road flooded near the Anchor Ranch turn off between Munali Coffee and Munali hills. I really do think we are going to HAVE to change how we farm to make our crops more resilient to extreme weather. I won’t try to send it today (as my Internet connection is in a foul mood) but I have a photo of a field of Wiz Bignell’s soybeans. In the background, despite a terribly dry year, he has some zero-till soybeans that look FANTATSTIC. In the foreground is a strip where the sorghum stover was burned accidentally – the soybeans will probably only yield 1/4 of the rest of the field. Our success or failure in the future won’t depend on such dramatic differences; the successful farmers will just be consistently getting results 5% more profitable than the rest, and over time that 5% extra  will enable them to survive the tough years. Years like James Chance’s father had to survive – on 200 and 100mm total rainfall!

That Omnia presentation on the 18th March includes a session on reduced tillage and I will certainly be going to pester him for information on how we can do something similar with tobacco. It seems that zero-till works extremely well if one grows a varied cycle of ANNUAL crops….but I have yet to learn how to deal with the grass-ley. We plough it in and promptly undo all the good of the previous 3 or 4 years.

May this week bring you dam filling rains – I feel it is now or never. (If the dams DO fill we will be left with the dilemma of whether to irrigate or not. The power situation is likely to be worse this year than last year.) Bruce


Dear Irene,

Evaporation 7th to 13th February 4-6, 6, 3-3, 4, 3-4, 4, 4-2

I came across an article which claimed that more than 3 billion people are now seriously short of water for at least a month every year. The article had a map showing the dry areas of the world in a colour code – Green (Zambia) that has enough water all year round to Brown (Sahara) that is using up water faster than the annual rainfall can replenish it. Note how short is Southern Africa, India and the western United States. The article blamed beef as one of the biggest ways in which we ‘waste’ water because it takes a lot of irrigation to grow enough grass to produce a kg of beef. I don’t think we are anywhere near a world-wide ban on irrigated pastures, but water IS going to become increasingly scarce.

Before I would ban irrigated pastures I would ban ANY company making ANY product without putting their return physical address, so we could send their junk back to them. I had to buy a new thermostat which I have been getting from Century Electric, but they were out of stock of the ANLY ones I have been using and sold me a similar looking one. But the level of Chinglish in the instructions is much worse; the thermostat doesn’t work and the manufacturer is so proud of the product that they didn’t even write their brand, let alone the country of origin. THOSE sort of products is the BIGGEST waste of the world’s resources – along with a really TERRIBLE quality float valve I bought recently and EVERY toaster I have ever bought….

Had nice confirmation that I am doing a reasonable job of curing – most of the time. Because of the problems with the thermostat we had a barn full of very wet tobacco. (A reminder for those of you not familiar with tunnels and chongololos – if you HAVE messed up and have a ‘late’ barn, you either have to stop reaping, or re-pack the wet tobacco into another barn which may not have been full. You cannot just use an empty barn/bulk curer from another system just for one day.) So we repacked this wet tobacco into other barns further down the line and produced a very high percentage of K and Z styles. Proof that, if I don’t cure this tobacco carefully, it has the potential to go Z on me. Until then I had produced no Z and much less K this year, mostly due to reaping significantly riper than normal.

Best4now, BruceWater shortage

Labour Laws

Dear Helen,

Evaporation 31st Jan to 5th Feb 1-19, 6, 7, 2-1, 4, 3-1

I was not aware (until I attended the TAZ meeting at the club on Friday) that the Labour Laws have been tightened. Once we offer a worker a second fixed term contract they become permanent and are entitled to pensions. Also, we cannot NOT renew that contract without good reason – i.e. we have to convince the Labour officer that we have good reason NOT to renew the contract. Perhaps all the discussion on this issue has been taking place on What’sApp but I am surprised that there has not been much more from the ZNFU and ZFE. Also at that meeting Albert reminded us that, in future, in order to sell tobacco, our tobacco passports will have to include a declaration (and possibly even proof) that we are complying with the laws of Zambia – NAPSA, Tax, Workmen’s Compensation, etc. I am not sure how we are going to be able to declare that we are complying with the current Labour Law….. More research needed.

I am VERY sorry that I won’t be attending Tuesday’s discussion group to go over the tour by several farmers to South Africa to see what they are doing with tobacco. Not only will I be doing something infinitely less pleasant, but I think that what they learned in SA will be one of those pivotal moments when we raise our knowledge of tobacco by several notches. I gather they are putting HUGE amounts of nitrogen on their crops. I certainly feel that some of my tobacco should have had more N and I have done a trail of an extra 10kg/ha of N (from Pot nitrate) and I intend to follow those clips of tobacco through to the end of curing. But 10kg/ha is irrelevant compared to the SA figures.

Not only do I think we have a LOT to learn still (adapting this latest SA knowledge to our conditions) but also adapting to climate. With the lack of research in this country I think ALL of us should try at least a hectare of tobacco that is ‘outside the box’. Given that most experiments end in failure (or at least a null result) the more of these trial hectares we have the sooner we will discover what works in this market, with these varieties and in this weather.

Keep well and I hope you can keep wet, Bruce


Dear Geke,

Evaporation 24 to 31st January 4, 3, 3, 6, 5-4, 2-15, 2-9 We were heading to being the driest total to the end of January in the 65 years of records that I have, but that late rain means we are only the second driest. 2002/03 was worse, but had good February rain, so we ended up with a reasonable total. I don’t know if we will be so lucky this time as the consensus of my weather sites is that the rain will go away this week. The situation for power remains poor and the UK weather office has just issued a forecast for the next 5 years – POSSIBLY lower temperatures in 2017 (IF a La Nina forms) but more record temperatures in 2018-20. You may have heard that Peterhouse (my old school) had 500mm in 24hrs – I passed that on to a friend in the Lake District and she pointed out that Storm Desmond dumped 380mm in 24hrs and 760mm in 72 hours on Keswick. With wetter and steeper hills and more built up valleys, I am sure their 380mm did more damage than Peterhouse’s 500.

One way we can reduce the catastrophic effects of this extreme weather is to plant more trees. A tree I have been interested in for a long time is Millettia pinnata – from South East Asia – and it is now available in Zambia. Ben Warr has imported some improved grafted trees from India and is looking for farmers willing to plant them. The trees are a legume to fix nitrogen, the leaves can be browsed, they yield more oil per ha (under intense conditions, for biodiesel) than oil palm, the cake can be used (sparingly) for stockfeed or the nuts can be burned directly (as green coal). If you are interested in planting some (particularly in the triangles between center pivot circles) get in touch with Ben – in 6o years time (when they stop bearing enough nuts) our children can cut the trees for firewood.

The Troy Nicolle heat exchanger is up and running. It cost me $2,500 in steel plus some welding rods and labour. It isn’t perfect yet (needs a few modifications) but it burns firewood beautifully and is MUCH better at holding my temperatures than my old boiler radiator. If anyone wants that boiler and 6 1.4m x 1.4m radiators they are welcome to take them away. I think the boiler/radiators would still run a tunnel or chongololo adequately but (a) need the radiators installed differently from the way I had them and (b) a proper hot water pump – which I never had.

Best4now, Bruce

Rabies and capacitors

Dear Fiona,

Evaporation 17 to 23rd January 3-6, 3-1, 5, 5, 6, 5, 5 With evaporation figures like that we should all be looking carefully at our remaining dam water. My ‘budget’ starts from the 1st March, but there is a real possibility that our dams will be lower by then than they are now and I am fully expecting one of my dams to be dry by August.

I had to put my youngest dog down on Saturday night. She was half Australian Blue Healer half Jack Russell and was one of the sweetest dogs I have owned. But my three have been involved in two fights with rabid dogs since Christmas. After the second one I decided to re-vaccinate them all (they were due again in April). But I was not aware that the pup should have had a repeat vaccination 3 months after her first. It seems that she may therefore not have had sufficient protection. Although she never developed obvious symptoms, there was quite a bit of ‘smoking gun’ evidence and putting her down definitely seemed the wisest option. I have heard that there have been two human cases of rabies in Choma and Kalomo recently so please keep your dog and cat vaccinations up to date.

Still a lot of uncertainty over this Power Factor correction issue. There are three options: correct individual motors, install Variable Speed Drives, install a variable Capacitor Bank. Which one you choose depends on the situation but they ALL contain capacitors, which makes them ALL dangerous (you MUST discharge the capacitors before poking around there with a screwdriver) and ALL attractive to lightning. So, install good lightning arrestors at the same time – and remember that your arrestors are only as good as your earthing. I see that, of the original 8 earthing rods I installed 35 years ago, only 3 are still connected – the other 5 have had their wires stolen. Finally, remember that this PF equipment will also save some of your diesel cost when you are having to run your generator – which we will be having to do more and more as 2016 progresses.



Enjoy it while it lasts

Dear Estelle,

Evaporation from 10 to 16th January 5-1,7, 4, 5, 5-2, 4, 2-17 My historic average evaporation for January is 2.3mm a day, so we were still experiencing evaporation much higher than ‘normal’.

My title refers to electricity – not to rainfall. It seems we are no longer being subjected to the full 8 hours a day power cuts, yet the Zambezi flow is still well below average and we currently have 60 days generating capacity in Kariba (and 90 on the Kafue). Add to that the decision to delay the Power Factor penalty to April and keeping the tariff for domestic consumption at the old price and we seem to have done everything possible to make sure we run out of electricity as soon as possible. The website shows that (apart from Mwinilunga itself) the rest of the Zambezi catchment above Kariba is not exactly flush with moisture. Kafue the same. So, those of us who are lucky enough to have irrigation water (not me) are unlikely to have adequate power to irrigate with.

Some more good news (genuine, to go with last week’s news of a 100mkg shortfall in Brazilian tobacco): Chris Aston reports that his VFDrives have reduced his diesel consumption from about 24 litres an hour to about 16. He reports that learning how to use VFDs is not easy, but it is obviously a technology that we are going to have to get to grips with. Also in the paragraph on good news is the fact that (after 35 years – Duh) I think I have finally come up with a solution to water hammer in my irrigation pipes. It really needs a diagram (which I will try to prepare for next week) but it involves putting the pressure relief valve under water on the suction side. This enables it to be set at a much lower pressure (so that it releases the hammer quickly) but also it then doesn’t matter if it leaks slightly as it cannot suck air into the system. With water being so short we CANNOT afford leaking pipes any longer and managing water hammer should help reduce those leaks.

Finally on water; I did mention about 5 years ago (when I was last critically short of water) that it was important to calculate our profit per megaliter of water. Time to dust off and update those figures. As Chris Aston pointed out (at the time) it is important to include the evaporation losses. A simple look at how much we pump onto irrigated tobacco, might suggest that it gives a better return than wheat. But, by the time we have irrigated our tobacco our dams have lost a lot more through evaporation and wheat, using the water earlier, might actually have been the better option.




Some Good News

Dear Denise,

Evaporation 3rd to 9th January, 6-2, 9, 9, 9, 11, 5-6, 7-1, The average evaporation I have for January is about 2.5, so you can see we are way above normal. That 11 is even very rare in October.

But the good news is Brazil is expecting to be about 100m kg short (as is Zimbabwe, though they don’t know it yet). I suspect quite a bit of the Zimbabwean/Brazilian crop is also going to be severely droughted, so the price for our better styles should be firm.

I am still trying to find out the longer term forecast. I probably mentioned that a friend of Sally’s said we were locked into four El Nino’s in a row – but Ant Ford had heard that next year is forecast to be wetter. I certainly feel we should be prepared for the worst and use our water as carefully as possible. Those of you who are dependent on boreholes should start recording the water levels NOW – it might give you early warning of how well your boreholes are coping.

Finally, the reason this is late is because I didn’t have access to the Internet over the weekend. I think the server at Siachitema Mission (from whence I get my signal) wasn’t working as all my equipment worked fine in town. So the people in the Airtel container opposite Barclays gave me the number of their Mr. Daka 0978981027 – you might want to keep that number handy if you use Airtel in remote areas.

May it be a wet one,




All change

Dear Caroline,

Evaporation 27 Dec to 2 Jan 5-4, 5, 6, 6, 8, 9, 7, 6-2

I don’t know how many of you read about the North Pole which was 35 degrees warmer than normal on Wednesday 30th December. When I saw the article, I thought it must be a misprint in the headline; it must surely have been 3.5 degrees. But no, the article explained that, whereas the North Pole in mid-winter should be 30 degrees C below freezing, it was actually 5 degrees above. Add to that the fact that I stayed with Tony and Sue Orr over the weekend and they reported that, although the Zambezi HAS come up by half a meter, it is still about 3 meters down from ‘normal’. Finally my sons tell me that a friends of Sally’s tells her that El Nino is ‘locked in’ for four years. I am not sure how this friend (a meteorologist) knows this (and I am trying to find out from the Internet, what the scientists are thinking about further El Ninos) but I am certainly beginning to think that we are going to have to re-think the way we farm.

I think soybeans will probably no longer be a suitable crop for Choma, as El Nino seasons tend to be too short to fill the pods in April. I think we will be planting tobacco on the flat, at much lower populations, surrounded by mulch. Cassava might be a more drought resistant source of carbohydrate than maize. It is difficult to run experiments to find out the best solutions, because the conditions in 2016 may not be the same as the conditions in 2020. But, as a book written after the Kyoto Agreement states: we must adapt or die.

Best for 2016,


Desirable Tobacco

Dear Betty,

Evaporation 20th to 26th December 1-16, 5-6, 6, 5-7 ,5, 5, 5 While on the subject of weather, I read that parts of England have had 4 times their average December rain. I don’t know what that means in Choma terms (I hope to look it up before next week’s blog) but four times the average sounds scary.

With this drier than average season it is going to be a challenge to grow really desirable tobacco to repair our reputation with China. I have had to remind myself that we are all in this together: even if two out of the three merchants buy and market a high quality crop, if the third one should stumble, it could be enough for the Chinese to walk away. I have been alarmed by the attitude of some farmers, who don’t seem to take the problem as seriously as we should. If we use a chemical that is not approved, and if the Chinese find it (even at levels way below the accepted levels) it will be proof to them that we do not have control over our production and that too might be enough of an excuse for them to walk away. I really believe this is the year we may have to forego some profit to be CERTAIN of producing an acceptable product. If there is a chemical out there that you are tempted to use, but which is not on the approved list, fight to get it approved for next year, but don’t use it this year in the hope that you can ‘get away with it’. Evidence of non-approved use may be all that it takes.

Having said that, I think it is not too late to discuss (and modify) the recommendations on late top-dressings. I gather Michelle du Toit (who, after all, knows her tobacco) is recommending late top dressing of Calcium nitrate on certain varieties as a remedy for K and Z styles. This contradicts the TAZ guidelines for this year. Now there is no danger of residues from Calcium nitrate, so residues is not the issue – it is the smoking quality of the leaf produced. I think we all agree that a late top-dressing should be nitrate based, which leaves us with Calcium, Potassium, Sodium and Ammonia nitrate. I am not sure is Sodium nitrate is even available and the Ammonia might give too much N, too late, as the Ammonia has to first change to nitrate before it can be utilised by the plant.

So, Calcium versus Potassium nitrate? And how does that ‘remedy’ compare with reaping riper, curing more slowly and anything else we can try? Of course a trial would help us to learn, but doing a trial on the micro-scale that I do my trials would probably give us an indeterminant result and is also very difficult to do – following leaves through the whole curing/grading/selling process. This is very crucial knowledge and I hope we can get better, clearer guidelines before it is too late.

Best for now,