Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Mass casualties hit beet army worms

Published:Saturday | December 12, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is reporting that there has been a significant reduction in the beet army worm infestation across farms that are usually vulnerable to the pest.

The pest mostly affects scallion, onion, pepper, beetroot, callaloo, watermelon, cantaloupe, muskmelon, and cotton farms in some farming communities in St Elizabeth and Manchester. Zonal plant health and food safety officer for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), western region, Lawrence Rowe, said the reduction was due to the ministry and other stakeholders' intervention strategies. According to Rowe, the pest has been in Jamaica since 2009, with a major outbreak in the Pedro Plains region in St Elizabeth. It devastated a large scallion field.

Reports have shown that between 2009 and 2012, farmers have suffered major losses due to the pest. Since 2013, there has been no major outbreak of the pest.

Be proactive

In light of this, farmers are being encouraged to take a proactive approach to ensure that outbreaks are minimised.

Described as resilient, the pest is very destructive and exhibits good survival skills that mimic an army, hence its name. Therefore, integrated pest-management strategies were undertaken to combat the population growth.

Rowe explained that the intervention strategies implemented by stakeholders include training to improve farmers' knowledge and skills in managing the pest. International support came from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which provides technical support in the development of management strategies.

"The international support is understandably significant because this pest is not only problematic in Jamaica, but also in other countries where it has devastated large acreages of crops," he said. During the dry and warm periods, followed by rains, farms are more susceptible to infestation, therefore, farmers are advised to use several strategies in combination such as manually scouting the farms and properly inspecting the plants to find the worm. The female moth, which can live up to 10 days, is capable of laying between 600 and 1,000 eggs, so Rowe is urging farmers to be vigilant and to get rid of the eggs, which are pale green.

Knowing about the pest helps the farmers to better manage it. RADA advises farmers to engage in management practices such as the use of bio-rational insecticides instead of the broad-spectrum kind, which are often more toxic. Bio-rational insecticides are more effective against the worm and are less detrimental to beneficial insects that are natural enemies of the worm. Some of the natural enemies are spiders, wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.