The Beet Armyworm (BAW) infestation has been a challenge for onion and scallion production in Jamaica since the 1970s.
In recent years, the pest has caused significant damage, leading to outbreaks in 2009-2012, and again in 2017.
Numerous mitigating strategies have been implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – Research and Development Division (R&DD) and its portfolio agency, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), in an attempt to alleviate the damage caused. Previously, damage by the pest was recorded to the tune of some J$140 million, and it has now been determined that the nation is at the action threshold.
AREA-WIDE MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME
The infestation has now spread to St Thomas, and the Agriculture Ministry has established the BAW area-wide management programme to cauterise this pest. Several strategies have been devised to assist with planning, early action activity, and population monitoring under the BAW area-wide management programme. These methodologies were used effectively in other parishes previously affected and have been deployed in St Thomas to enable early intervention there to minimise any fallout.
Several fit-for-purpose tools have been put in place to assist the affected onion farmers in St Thomas to include monthly assessments to capture data on BAW risk parameters such as: egg sacs, larvae, crop damage, host plants status, farmer compliance score, mean moth catch from pheromone traps and market intelligence.
Further, a report was produced by the R&DD, regarding other predispositary or complimentary BAW environmental factors such as mean temperature, total rainfall and standard precipitation index (SPI) to determine the risk level for the period. Currently, this critical information has been used to produce farmer advisories, which are then circulated in farmer WhatsApp groups and on social media.
Dedicated BAW advisories have been prepared and shared with the onion farmers in St Thomas to educate them on early detection and management methods of the pest.
Training engagements re: Onion Pest Management and specifically BAW management are being conducted on an ongoing basis. These are a follow on to BAW Rallies conducted at the beginning of the major onion planting season to prepare farmers to manage the pest – particularly with ever increasing acreages of onion under production.
INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY ANTICIPATED
In our ongoing thrust to provide farmers with the requisite support to Grow Smart, the RADA and R&DD currently provides onion farmers in St Thomas with a monthly Risk Assessment Report, Pheromone traps, Plant Health Mobile Clinics, regular field visits and monitoring by research and extension officers. The approved list of pesticides registered for use on onion and scallion in Jamaica has been provided. Pest management and the safe and effective use of pesticides, food safety and good agricultural practices has been disseminated during farmer capacity building training sessions.
Despite the challenges, the Agriculture Ministry, in consultation with RADA and other relevant stakeholders, has calculated a recommended farmgate price for onions at $330/kg or $150/lb for this crop season. It is anticipated that the increase in productivity achieved this year will allow farmers to enjoy good returns on their investment. This will ultimately redound to the benefit of Jamaican consumers.
The ministry said it remains committed to increasing the ongoing support to onion farmers as it continues to bolster its efforts at becoming more food secure.