A guide to Profitable Rubber Tree Farming

Rubber tree farming is an agricultural system of cultivating and growing rubber trees usually on a large scale in large plantations for its sap called latex.

Rubber trees are classified into the natural order euphorbiaceae. Rubber trees are sturdy, tall and grows quick with well developed root system. Rubber trees are mainly cultivated for its sap, latex which is used extensively in the production of natural rubber. Latex is a sticky, milky, white liquid which is produced in the stems of rubber trees.

The latex is collected by making cuts and incisions in the bark of mature rubber trees and it run down the cut into containers strapped to the tree. Natural rubber is used extensively to produce many products due to its unique properties which are; elasticity, high resilience, water and electricity resistance. Rubber producing countries include Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Africa and some parts of Asia.

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Picture Credit: gau xam 

Benefits of rubber tree farming?

Natural rubber has a huge demand:

Rubber is one of the most demanded raw material that is used by virtually every industry due to wide range of applications. Most industry require rubber for its operation and so makes rubber have a global demand by firms and companies that utilize rubber, thus making rubber farming a lucrative and very profitable agricultural venture.

It serves as an export crop:

Before, when agriculture was the major source of revenue for Nigeria, cocoa, cassava, rubber, cassava and other cash crops were majorly exported to other countries to generate foreign exchange. But now that agriculture is no longer the nations’s focus, a farmer stands better chance of generating higher and steady income from the export of rubber. This is because, rubber tree farming is no longer commonly practiced by most farmers hence making the business less competitive.

For the plumbing industry

The plumbing industry use rubber to industrially manufacture pipes and garden hoses. This is attributed to the fact that rubber does not corrode and does not chemically contaminate most liquids.

For the automobile making industry

The automobile making industry use natural rubber to produce its tyres and tubes. They use rubber in the production of high performance tyres for buses, cars, aircraft, racing cars, motorcycles and other vehicles due to its tensile strength, heat-friction and wear resistance.

It serves the construction industry:

Uncured rubber is used by the construction industry to produce a range of construction materials such as adhesives, cement, friction tapes, handles of construction tools and insulating materials.

For the shoemaking industry

The shoemaking industry use rubber as a substitute to leather for shoe and footwear production. Rubber is also used to produce the soles of most shoes.

For the electrical industry

Rubber serves for use in the electrical industry as it is used to produce many electrical gadgets, appliances and components due to it being good insulators. Also most wires are coated with rubber as rubber has a very high electrical resistance.

It serves for furniture making

The wood of rubber trees after proper chemical treatment is used for making household furniture like doors, wardrobes, tables etc. They are best suited for making furniture due to its strength and durability.

Rubber is also used for making hand gloves, balloons, balls, rubber bands, cushions, mattresses etc.

Varieties of rubber trees.

There are different varieties of the rubber trees. They differ in terms of quality of latex, their location, their lifespan and other factors. The varieties are; 

Amazonian rubber tree(Hevea bransiliensis), Congo rubber, dandelion, panama rubber tree, Russian dandelion, guayule 

Climatic and soil requirements of rubber trees.

Rubber trees are perennials with a long lifespan of about 30-35 years with about 7 years of immaturity (the growing stage) and about 23-25 years of productivity (the latex productive stage). For the optimum growth of rubber trees, they must be planted within a temperature range of 20°-35°c with a well distributed rainfall of about 200-250cm over a year.

Rubber trees thrives in plains and mountainous regions that are rich in deep, well drained, acidic, clayey-loam soils with a pH of about 4.5- 6.5. Also rubber trees require much sunlight and must be regularly exposed to sunshine for as long as 6hours per day.

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Picture Credit: Anh Vy

Steps to take to start rubber tree farming.

Farmland selection and preparation: The land to be chosen must contain fertile and well drained soils. The land should be sited in a place far from residential areas as the roots of the trees can grow far from the planting site. Before planting, it is necessary to clear the farm to remove any weeds. Also the land should be ploughed and in the process any stumps and remaining roots should be removed. The clearing and ploughing can be done by tractors if the farmland is large enough and the farmer can afford it.

How Planting works in rubber tree farming

Rubber is mainly propagated with the aid of seeds. The farmer should purchase healthy seeds. The farmer plants the seeds in the ground and they grow within 6-8 days. The farmer could raise seed beds so he could easily plant on them. The farmer must provide shade for the seeds so as to prevent excessive sunlight exposure. The seeds should regularly be watered to prevent drying up of the seeds.  The farmer can consider planting first in nurseries and later transplanting them or planting them directly on the farmland.

Cover cropping

In any rubber tree plantation, cover crops should be grown between the trees so as to prevent erosion, conserve soil moisture and increase the organic matter content of the soil. Due to the fact that rubber trees last for a long time on the farm, they are prone to decrease in soil fertility due to erosion, leaching etc. This is prevented when cover crops are planted. The cover crops are centrosome, mimosa etc.

Weed control

The rubber plantation must be weeded regularly to prevent weed infestation and also offer the rubber trees a chance of higher productivity. The weeds can be removed manually or by the application of herbicides. During the manual weeding care should be taken not to cut or injure the stem or bark of the rubber trees. When herbicide are to be applied, the cover crops and the trees should be protected.

Application of fertilizer

Fertilizer application tends to improve soil fertility and the crop’s overall growth. The fertilizer can be applied in three stages which are; at the seedling or nursery stage, the growing or immature stage and the tapping or productive stage.

Tapping the rubber trees

Tapping is the periodic removal of thin slices of bark so as to extract latex. The tapping should be done by skilled men so as to minimize any damages to the rubber trees. It is recommended that for more latex the tapping should be done in the mornings. Tapping should not be done in the December- January period as this is the time most rubber trees lose and regrow their leaves. Any tapping done within this period will result in poor yield. Farmers can also apply chemicals like ethrenel which increases the yield of latex in rubber trees. This is economical as up to two folds of the rubber latex is tapped after applying such chemicals.

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