Pest attack threatens maize crop

Vishwanath Kulkarni Bengaluru | Updated on July 18, 2021

A farmer shows a Fall Army Worm in a maize field at Pak Chong district, Nakhon Ratchasima province, Thailand June 12, 2019. Picture taken on June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun   -  REUTERS

Total maize area infested by fall army worm is estimated to be over 7.07 lh during 2020-21

The dreaded fall army worm (FAW) has started infesting kharif maize crop in the States such as Karnataka, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, triggering concern among growers. This comes at a time when the area under maize has declined by 8 per cent to 59 lakh hectares (lh) as of mid-July on deficient rains and farmers switching over to other crops, especially in Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

FAW, which appeared first in the country during the 2018 kharif season in maize in Karnataka, has now spread across the country. Total FAW affected area in maize is estimated to be over 7.07 lh during 2020-21.

‘Perennial problem’

“FAW is becoming a perennial problem. Like Covid, we have to learn to live with it,” said Sujay Rakshit, Director, ICAR Indian Institute of Maize Research, admitting that the pest has surfaced in Punjab, Himachal and other States. “We are observing that wherever the pest has appeared for two consecutive years, good amount of incidence was recorded. But this time a damage is a bit less. We have conducted few awareness programmes. The moment, farmers spot the pest, if control measures are taken, then it can be controlled,” Rakshit said, adding that the pesticides required to deal with the pest are now available in the market.

In the ongoing kharif season, the area under maize has increased Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, while the planting has dropped in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Bihar.

Bhagirath Choudhary, Founder Director, South Asia Biotech Centre (SABC), said there has been a noticeable increase in infestation of FAW in the succulent stage of maize crop in many States including Punjab (districts of Hoshiapur, Ropar, Jalandhar and Pathankot), Himachal Pradesh (Hamirpur), Bihar (Gaya), Telangana (Warangal), Nagaland and Karnataka during the current kharif season.

“Controlling FAW at early stage by adopting seed treatment and installing pheromone traps is the only way to manage the devastating pest that has unfortunately increased cost of cultivation by at least ₹3,000-5,000 per acre,” Chaudhary said.

Meanwhile, the ICAR-National Bureau Agricultural Insect Resources (NBAIR) has identified the indigenous natural enemies of FAW and developed conservation and augmentation biocontrol strategies using egg parasitoids such as Trichogramma, nano based pheromone technologies for monitoring and mass trapping of the pest. IPM modules have been prepared and sent to the Krishi Vigyan Kendras to popularise the protocols among farmers, sources said.


Twin challenges

Chaudhary said farmers prefer to grow maize as it is easy to grow commercial crop but lately, they are facing twin challenges of FAW and low market price. “Our intensive training cum field activities for last two years have equipped farmers to deal with the menace of fall armyworm. For Kharif 2021, we have alerted States as well as Centre about the imminent threat of FAW based on solid data obtained through a rapid roving survey of fodder maize crop in Maharashtra in early summer, which indicated a worrying trend of FAW infestation in fodder maize fields that can have spill over impact of commercial maize in Kharif 2021 season,” Chaudhary said.

Published on July 18, 2021

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