Farmers Urged to “Scout” Fields for Pests


Vegetable farmers in Springfield and neighbouring communities in St. Thomas are being advised to “scout” their fields for pests at least twice weekly and take remedial action to prevent contamination.
Timon Williamson, Senior Research Director for plant protection at the Bodles Research Station in St. Catherine, told the farmers attending a field day in the parish recently, that scouting was an important principle in growing a crop and protecting it from pests and diseases.
“A farmer has to get intimate with his field, the soil, land and the plant. At least two times per week, you have to visit your plot to see what is going on. Nothing serious is supposed to happen that would take you by surprise,” he pointed out.
Explaining the benefits of scouting, Mr. Williamson said, a farmer would know the state of his crop and be able to detect any variation and respond to the problem as quickly as possible. “This is your livelihood and you need to put in all that it takes and get familiar with your plants,” he added, stating that farmers “only have to use chemicals when they are careless and have not been scouting.”
The training session was organised by the Agricultural Support Services Project (ASSP), under the Ministry of Agriculture, to inform the farmers about pest management in vegetables and to teach them about fertiliser nutrition and irrigation. The Springfield Vegetable Growers are producing corn, carrot, cabbage, pepper and tomatoes on a 24.3-hectare plot (60-acres) in Springfield.
Another important element in managing pests and diseases, Mr. Williamson said, was land preparation. He informed that tilling of the soil helped to reduce the number of soil dwelling pests such as earthworms, mice, crickets, and grasshopper eggs. These, he said, are squashed during tillage, while others die from sun exposure.
He noted also, that vegetables were prone to pest damage, which, if not properly managed, can lead to crop failure. “On average, pests account for 30 to 40 per cent of crop loss and if the infestation is severe it can account for 100 per cent of crop loss,” he noted.
Mr. Williamson said that the corn plant had two critical pest problems, the Corn Ear Worm and the Fall Army Worm, which is a moth that lays its eggs on the plant. When they hatch, the caterpillars feed on the plant.
“The Fall Army Worm can be very devastating if it is in a good season for the corn and this is a pest, which the farmers have to watch out for and treat appropriately as soon it is encountered,” he informed.
The other insect, the Corn Ear Worm, feeds on the ear of the corn. When the eggs are laid on the silk of the ear and young caterpillars are hatched, they chew their way into the corn ear, down to the cob of corn.
Mr. Williamson said that this pest could cause “direct damage to the economic yield of the corn.” He noted that the Fall Army Worm also fed on the ear of the corn, especially after the leaves of the plant have gotten old.
The Senior Research Director said that there were beneficial insects or natural enemies to corn plants and other vegetables. Among these, he mentioned, were a range of ladybird beetles, which feed on white flies, aphids (plant lice), leaf-hoppers as well as spiders which prey on small insects.

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