Ahead of the maize sowing season this year in the State, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) has constituted a task force to contain the damage the Fall Army Worm had caused to the crop in 2018.

Last year, the Fall Army Worm that entered the country from the U.S. through Africa had destroyed maize on 40 to 50% of the total cultivated area of 3.50 lakh ha. Or, the pest had brought down the maize production in the State from nearly 21 lakh metric tonnes to around 10 lakh metric tonnes, K.S. Subramanian, Director of Research, TNAU told The Hindu.

The worst affected districts were 17 and that included Perambalur, Ariyalur, Thoothukudi, Dindigul, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Virudhunagar, Tiruppur and Namakkal.

This year to prevent the pest from having a free run, the TNAU had set up the task force under the leadership of K. Prabakar, Director, Centre for Plant Protection Studies, and comprising experts N. Muthu Krishnan and N. Sathaiah.

The task force had networked with entomologists in the 17 districts and the latter monitored ground situation on a daily basis.

Such a task force was necessary because Fall Army Worm was a very notorious pest that could easily travel 100 km a day, case its eggs so that pesticides had no impact and fed on leaf, shoot, cob and almost any part of the plant.

Besides, the pest laid 200 eggs in a cluster and multiplied every 15 days.

The task force’s recommendation, Mr. Subramanian said, was that the farmers should plough the field before sowing maize so that the Fall Army Worm pupae would be exposed to the sun and also turn a feed for the birds.

Next, the farmers should apply neem cake at 250 kg a ha, use only biological agent-coated seeds and spray a neem-based pesticide on the seedlings. A few weeks thereafter, the when maize was knee-high, the farmers should repeat spraying the pesticides.

Additionally, the farmers could also place pheromone traps to attract and kill the pest and leave a row vacant for every three rows sown to enable late spraying of pesticides, if required.

Demonstration plots

Mr. Subramanian said the TNAU recommended the aforementioned approach only after demonstrating the effectiveness of the approach. To guide maize farmers, it had also established two or three demonstration plots in each of the affected blocks.

Additionally, the TNAU had also moved the State Government to import an insect that fed on Fall Army Worm eggs, he added.