Fall army worm positively identified in Limpopo and Gauteng where it is already damaging crops

Emergency plan: Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana, has vowed to tackle the problem of the fall army worm.

AMIDST concerns about a fall army worm plague devastating maize and other crops in South Africa this year, the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu) has assured KwaZulu-Natal farmers that government has an emergency plan to deal with this voracious foreign pest.

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According to Kwanalu, it is the first time ever that the worm, the larva of the Spodoptera frugiperda moth, has been identified in South Africa. A native of South and Central America that also occurs in the southern states of the USA, the moth is a strong flyer and could be distributed by prevailing winds over large distances.

The pest was first detected in Africa in January last year when it was reported from Nigeria.

From there it spread to several other West African countries, eventually reaching Central Africa by April. Now the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Daff) has announced that the fall army worm has been positively identified from samples collected in Limpopo and Gauteng provinces, where it is already damaging crops.

Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana, has vowed to tackle the pest. He has set in motion an emergency plan that involves the use of registered pesticides and chemicals that would not have any impact on people’s health if used correctly.

Pic: Pixabay

Dr Roger Price from the insect ecology division at the Agriculture Research Council is quoted as saying it was imperative farmers and landholders had access to information regarding the identification of the fall army worm, as well as to the official recommendations on how to report and to control this pest.

As the fall army worm is an entirely new pest to southern Africa, none of the current pesticides registered for use on maize in South Africa are registered for official use against it. Extensive field trials would be needed to determine efficacy and acceptable dose rates for registration of applicable pesticides.

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In the meantime the Registrar of the Farm Remedies Act is granting emergency approval for the use of currently registered pesticides against maize pest lediptopera species (leaf, stalk and cob-feeding caterpillars). These chemicals would be safe to use if applied at the registered dose rates and time intervals as recommended by the chemical companies and agricultural extension officers.

Daff advised farmers to visit the CropLife SA database on insecticides at www.croplife.co.za for trade names of products. The Agri Intel Database at www.agri-intel.com would be useful, too.

Users would need to apply for a password but this website was very quick. Both websites were available at no cost to all and would assist farmers to manage the pest, a Daff spokesman said. The pest usually targeted maize and so far appeared to have affected mainly yellow maize varieties.

However it could occasionally attack cotton, wheat, sorghum, soybeans, potatoes and groundnuts, so farmers were advised to keep an eye on these crops, too.

As part of its emergency plan, Daff had initiated awareness campaigns in all provinces and would continue to monitor the situation, a spokesman said. After last year’s devastating drought a further financial blow that could result from the fall armyworm needed to be avoided at all cost.

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Judi Davis
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