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Story Highlights

  • The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is reporting that there has been a significant reduction in the beet armyworm 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.
  • The pest has been in Jamaica since 2009, when there was the first major outbreak in the Pedro Plains region in St. Elizabeth. It devastated a large scallion field.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is reporting that there has been a significant reduction in the beet armyworm 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.

Speaking with JIS News, Zonal Plant Health and Food Safety Officer for the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), Western Region, Lawrence Rowe, says the reduction is due to the Ministry’s and other stakeholders’ intervention strategies.

According to Mr. Rowe, the pest has been in Jamaica since 2009, when there was the first 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.

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 which mimic an army, hence its name. Therefore, integrated pest management strategies were undertaken to combat the population growth.

Mr. Rowe explains 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 Organizaton (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 acreage of crops,” he says.

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 Mr. Rowe is urging farmers to be vigilant and get rid of the eggs which are pale green.

Knowing about the pest helps the farmers to better manage the pest.  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.

Another strategy that is recommended in combating the pest with a pheromone trap that monitors and traps the male adult moth.

Mr. Rowe explains that the trap gives off a compound similar to the pheromone that the female produces and is used to attract the male moth. The trap also helps to monitor the population to see whether it is increasing, so this management strategy aids in mating disruption.

“Farmers are also encouraged to engage in cultural practices, such as crop rotation, field sanitation and destroying all infested materials which also minimise crop losses and the growth of the infestation,” he adds.

“What we have been emphasising to the farmers is to be proactive and try to keep the pest population low and not wait until there is an outbreak to react,” he notes.

Consistent and strategic management practices will mitigate the further development of the pest. Farmers are being encouraged to:

  • Intensify the monitoring of their crops at least twice a week or every three days
  • Continue to utilise the pheromone traps as a monitoring tool to detect the early arrival of the migrating beet armyworm adults (or bats)
  • Monitor for the early detection of the egg sacs when deposited on the tip of leaves and for emergence of newly hatched worms within three days. This is critical as these are the most vulnerable and susceptible stages where cultural and chemical strategies are to be applied. Hand picking is recommended where practical.
  • Use environmentally friendly products which encourage the presence of natural enemies
  • Manage all weeds within and surrounding the fields which may harbour the pest
  • Provide adequate nutrition to the crop
  • Community involvement will play a big role in successful management of the beet army worm, as farmers work together to get pest numbers down in neighbouring fields.

Going forward, Mr. Rowe notes that under a FAO beet armyworm project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, a pest forecasting system, which is similar to the weather forecast, is being developed.

The system, he says, will give an indication of the behaviour of the population or the trend of the pest, for example, if there will be an increase in the population of moths within a certain time.