October 27, 2020
The government foresees a P20 billion economic loss for corn’s crop year due to the highl-infesting Fall armyworm (FAW), affecting 1.6 million metric tons (MT) of harvest on a total of 2.5 million hectares of corn area.
On top of making life more difficult for corn farmers, the infestation has a negative domino effect on the cost efficiencies of feed millers, food processors, livestock and poultry raisers, traders and consolidators, and finally consumers.
Department of Agriculture’s (DA) FAW Crisis Management Team Chief Dr. Lorenzo M. Caranguian reported government is intensifying strategies against FAW as loss is foreseen to be worsened by the incoming dry season planting.
“As we approach the dry season, this November to December planting up to harvest in March to April (2021), mostly likely FAW will peak. That is a period when we’re really expecting harvest to be bountiful,” said Caranguian in a FAW forum co-hosted by Bayer Philippines Inc.
DA has already adopted an FAW Integrated Pest Management (IPM) protocol. Under this, corn farmers are advised to detect presence of the pest at the earliest stages and apply three actions against the pest, according to Brueau of Plant Industry Crop Protection Chief Wilma Cuaterno , also resource person at the “FAW:Status & Management Strategies.”.
These are use of trap crops (planting legumes 20 days prior to corn planting); field inspection (observe feces, egg masses, larvae that indicate FAW presence); and use pest attractants –organic bait trap such as molasses with vinegar; and use of commercial pheromones as traps and lures).
DA has released a P150 million quick response fund for the program. It has also allocated another P100 million to intensify pest control . This P100 million is part of the P470 million alloted from the national government’sBayanihan 2.
Caranguian said government is also studying corn varieties claimed to be resistant against FAW, particularly the Dekalb VT Double Pro.
“DA will conduct a nationwide corn derby where all corn varieties claiming resistance against FAW will be grown and tested for their pest resistance and yield. It will be multi-locational in order for farmers to see for themselves varieties suitable to them,” Carangian said.
Field studies have shown the Dekalb VT Double Pro corn plants have withstood FAW in the last dry season.
The biotechnology-bred corn variety has a multiple Mode of Action (MOA) against the pest. Multiple MOA) has enabled corn plants to combat infestation, according to John Fajardo, Bayer Philippines Agronomic System Corn & Knowledge Transfer manager.
Some Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) seeds, also biotechnology-bred, only has one MOA which is against Asiatic corn borer. As such, some Bt corn plants have been destroyed by FAW.
HOwever, Dekalb VT Double Pro corn plants sustained only 2-3% damage in the last dry planting.
With Dekalb VT DoublePro, given the proper climatic condition, cultural management, and a growing period of 115 to 120 days depending on the variety, corn can yield as much as 13-15 metric tons (MT) per hectare.
As a rather auspicious development, Caranguian said FAW has not been observed to infest rice plants which is possible based on the pest’s polyphagous (feeds on various food) nature.
“Corn is their favorite. It is more palatable to them,” he said.
However, it has been observed to hurt some sugarcane crops in Region 2.
Cuaterno said DA-BPI has also adopted under the FAW Protocol three actions for prevention of the infestation.
These are crop diversification (planting different crops or alternate crops after corn), synchronous planting (so that plants, particularly those in vegetative stage, can avoid the pest), and field sanitation (weeding and plowing under of stubbles).
DA is also using natural enemies or biocontrol agents (predators) as natural pesticide against FAW.
“It is better to use natural enemies because that is sustainable management. For high population of pests, we use organic pesticide, and then we apply inorganic pesticide,” she said.
FAW infestation has already adversely affected corn harvest in 57 out of 81 provinces covering 288 out of 1,488 towns and cities. Average degree of damage in surved areas is 44.43%, DA records showed. Destruction is severe in Cagayan Valley, 5,428 hectares; Zamboanga Peninsula, 1,154 hectares; SOCKSARGEN( South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani, General Santos), 1,703 hectares.
Other serious incidence has been found in Northern Mindanao, 1,191 hectares and Bicol, 533 hectares.
FAW reproduces quickly with female adults laying 2,000 eggs in a single instance. Its dispersion is fast as it can fly at night over a 100-kilometer distance and up to 500 kilometers with the aid of wind.
Being able to eat anything at hand enables the FAW to increase in population at exponential rate and travel to far distances. By flying, it can travel 100 kilometers per night.
All Dekalb varieties with VT DoublePro have a 5% refuge in a bag. This government requirement is part of the Insecticide Resistance Management (IRM) strategy of the industry. It is aimed at minimizing the risk that corn varieties resistant to FAW will one day become ineffective in killing the pest.
Fajardo said members of Croplife Philippines, a group of bioscience companies developing corn varieties resistant to pests, are collaborating on coming up with a common IRM. It will ensure corn farmers will enjoy the use of FAW-resistant seeds as the Dekalb VT Double Pro for a long time.
In the Philippines, FAW was first observed in March 2019 in Piat, Cagayan. “It was first identified morphologically by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization). From Piat, Cagayan, it was then seen in Gonzaga, Sta. Ana, and other municipalities until it reached the provinces of Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, and Quirino.
FAW was first found infesting farms in Africa in 2016. It had spread all over Africa in just one year. Afterwards, it was found in India, devastating 60 to 80% of farm harvest in some areas. It was in 2019 when it reached Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)