Domoguen: Waging wars on crop pests and diseases

BY EXPERIENCE, farmers know that major outbreaks of pests and diseases are infrequent.

The question is when these outbreaks occur do the farmers and stakeholders know what to do? Otherwise, the farmers lose their crop.

When local farmers lose their crop for the current season, they lose their livelihood and are forced to incur additional debts to start all over again.

This need not happen. A whole field crop may not necessarily be damaged if the farmer and crop technicians were vigilant in their surveillance of the occurrence of pests and diseases. It is also during pests and disease outbreak situations that farmers are forced to use pesticides fueling continued concern on food safety and abuse of the environment.

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program was developed to aid farmers in making economically and environmentally responsible decisions on the use of pesticides when necessary. In most cases, the program would advise farmers not to use pesticides – “it is not even necessary.”

Pest monitoring, also known as field scouting is a cornerstone of any effective IPM program. It begins with the correct identification of a pest, according to Ulysses G. Duque, Agricultural Center Chief ll at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), San Andres St., Malate, Manila.

“Farmers and pest scouts must know and identify their enemies (referring to field crop pests) properly to be able to control and manage the damage they inflict on their plants,” he added.

Duque was part of a team of experts invited by the Department of Agriculture-Cordillera Administrative Region (DA-CAR) to train and introduce local agricultural technicians and pest control officers to a new government pest surveillance research project called “Pests Risks Identification and Management (PRIME).

PRIME is currently being implemented on rice by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and its attached agencies: Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR); Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI); and Philippine Rice Research Institute (Philrice). The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and other partner institutions are part of the team.

The other and earlier projects on rice pests and diseases identification, control and management include the Surveillance and Early Warning System for Masagana (1985 edition). This was later updated into a Philippine Pest Surveillance and Early Warning System on Rice (2017 edition) by the BPI.

The primary objective of any public invested research and development project is to transfer technology and tools to the major stakeholders of farming, more importantly, the farmers to use, manage, and enhance the practice of their professions.

In the two days that I joined and participated in the PRIME lectures and field activities in Tabuk City, Kalinga Province, last February 20-21, it was apparent how expertise evolved over the years on pest surveillance, monitoring, and risk management that are integrated into a system that stakeholders can use to their benefit and that of the consumers of agricultural products. It does take time and effort to learn the old techniques and be updated with the new strategies and approaches.

For example, during the lecture on injuries caused by insects, by Mr. Ricardo Marquez, Senior Science Research Specialist at Philrice, explained that scouts or those tasked to monitor the pests of crops can easily see what they are looking for with a combination of direct recognition, knowing something about the biology and habits of the pests, and identifying injury symptoms on the plant caused by a pest. In time, “you must learn to create your story about a certain pest that would make you readily recognize it and understand its behavior,” he said.

Knowing and understanding a pest prevents hasty decisions and efforts to control it. This is because monitoring pests, when properly done, provide enough information to make an economically sensible decision that is based on solid research information, according to Marquez.

In practice, the decision is flexible and is still incumbent upon knowing and understanding the pests and diseases of rice, for instance. This leads to the formulation and employment of a suitable and efficient combination of management strategies and biological, cultural and mechanical control methods of pest control. If pesticides are to be used, it must as a rule, be utilized as a corrective tool that targets a specific pest present in economically damaging numbers.

Here is a story formulated by a pest scout on the brown planthopper that is helpful in recognizing the problem and evolving effective solutions, management and control of the pest.

The brown planthopper is a very damaging insect in rice cultivation. These are very tiny insects that are hardly noticed even if the rice plants in a paddy are covered by them. An infested rice field can be lost if interventions come in too late.

The brown planthopper can be recognized by knowing its feeding habits. It normally attacks at the base of the plant and sucks its sap that causes drying. Affected plants look burnt. The worst attack is in the booting stage or just before the rice ripens.

The brown planthopper is a pest that likes some kinds of rice more than the others. This characteristic suggests one aspect of controlling the pest. Avoid planting rice varieties that are susceptible to the brown planthopper in those times where their growth is very favorable.

The brown planthoppers like warm and moist weather but do not like bright sunlight. Planting several rice seedlings close together makes it is easy for the hoppers to move from one plant to another. The pest also likes to eat rice that has been fertilized with lots of urea. Do not spray pesticides early in the season as a control measure. The act kills hopper predators such as spiders.

Here are a few information and recommendations I gathered during the lectures for identifying and managing insect pests in rice in the Philippines from the pest scout exercises in Tabuk City.

- The farmer is a very important character in the identification and management of pests and diseases in the farm. Their active support in developing and adopting a scientific approach to pest surveillance and monitoring must be sought continuously especially in putting in place an early warning system for pest outbreaks.

- The PRIME is building a rice area pest monitoring system. It would be best to also utilize the strategies and learnings from this project for other crops.

- The site selection and monitoring sites establish visits by trained pest scouts in the study, identification and determining the emergence of pests at a very early stage. The arrangement must provide for close working tie-ups with the farmers in the area to ensure transfer of critical knowledge and technology.

- The Project can look into creating awareness among the farmers about Integrated Crop Management (ICM) practices that keep the plant healthy and less vulnerable to plant pests and diseases.

- Pest and disease management consist of a range of activities that support each other. Good crop management practices are aimed at preventing pests and diseases from affecting a crop. It focuses on keeping existing pest populations and diseases low. Control, on the other hand, is an activity that focuses on killing the pest and disease. In organic agriculture, the management of pests and diseases deals with the causes of a problem rather than treating the symptoms.

Therefore, management is a much higher priority than control. Besides monitoring pests and their management are focused on preventive practices, as well as control practices using biological, mechanical control, and natural pesticides which are important considerations in pests risks identification and management on food crops.
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