For several years, farmers in Central Jamaica have witnessed the horrors that the Beet Armyworm can do to their crops. This pest has plowed through farms leaving devastation in its wake. With no single long-term solution to eradicate the pest, farmers have sought to utilize different strategies to combat this epidemic.
However, there is a silver lining to this ongoing problem as Beasc Technologies from Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has developed a prototype which can help in the fight against the Beet Armyworm.
The prototype, which is solar powered, has a receptor that traps the pest at the moth stage and proceeds to use high voltage electricity to kill them. It also uses sensors to collect geo-data such as humidity and rainfall among other functionalities to help with the management of the farm. The team has won the 2018 International Business Model Competition (IBMC) for its innovation and there are high expectations that this may benefit farmers greatly.
The device was recently tested on a farm in St. Elizabeth and the team was pleased that the device worked perfectly. However, more research and development needs to be done before mass production can take place.
While the development of the device churns along. Farmers in collaboration with The Rural Agriculture Development Authority (RADA) have employed several strategies to combat the spread of the Beet Armyworm.
Measures implemented by RADA and farmers
The farmers of Manchester and St. Elizabeth have lost millions to this pest. One farmer from New Forest in Manchester, Conrod Murray, has lost almost 3 million dollars within the past year in his attempt to control the Beet Armyworm from devouring his farm.
“The Beet Armyworm has completely wiped me out… left me penniless,” Murray lamented.
This is the same for many farmers who face the same dilemma as they have to get loans to save their only source of income. Therefore, their only option is to use different strategies to control the growth of the pest.
Measures implemented by RADA would include the farmer field school where farmers are trained to pass on knowledge to other farmers in areas such as good farming practices and crop rotation. Field sanitation is also used along with the use of proper pesticides to mitigate against killing non-target species.
Farmers have sought to manually eliminate the pest by handpicking them from the plant. However, this can be tedious. In addition, farmers have been closely monitoring their fields to assess the larval stages that are present and using irrigation during the dry months to reduce the pest population.
A recent tool that is now being used is the Pest Forecasting System which involves gauging the larval period of the pest by using temperature and humidity and general climatic conditions to predict how fast the larvae will grow and pupate. The meteorological service has also collaborated with RADA in order to facilitate this system by providing geo-data.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has also been doing its part by launching the National Beet Armyworm programme which is geared towards sensitizing farmers on management practices that have contributed to the control of these particular pests. They have also established the Bodles Research Station which oversees the research of the Beet Armyworm.
With the dry season, fast approaching farmers need to be alert and look to see if the population of the pest has risen in their farms.
Co-author of “The Beet Armyworm Pest Forecast Model: A Decision-Making Tool for Pest Management in Jamaica”, Deshaun Martin-Clarke, warns farmers of the critical role that they must play in ensuring that they do not record major losses due to the Beet Armyworm. “Farmers need to take the responsibility of informing themselves about this (Beet Armyworm) and any other pest species and not depend solely on chemical control, which is the go-to method for any emergent species,” Martin- Clarke said.
Beasc Technologies may provide a long-term answer, however, this device may not be available to farmers on a wide scale in the coming months. Therefore, farmers must research and implement different techniques to mitigate the killing of Beet Armyworm.