A beet armyworm outbreak in southern Jamaica is threatening its agriculture sector.
Rural Agricultural Development Authority's (RADA) Marina Young told the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) that the problem was a serious one and its impact would be severe. “We have lost, between Manchester and St. Elizabeth, about 43 percent of the acreage that could be in production now,” she said.
The availability of some produce, particularly scallion, will be scarce in the local market.
Young shared that RADA's assessment of the affected areas indicated that there had been a total loss of some 133 acres as a result of the beet armyworm outbreak, which was first observed in March. This, she states tallies a loss valued of about J$111 million.
Young added that between 83 and 85 percent of the crops destroyed by the worm were scallion. “We have to look at the immediate impact, which is loss of the crop. Scallion is a ratoon crop, and with damage to the crops, the farmers won’t have that income for weeks to come,” she said.
The beet armyworms have been mainly drawn to scallion, but have also damaged onion, tomato, cucumber, watermelon, callaloo and beetroot, to a lesser extent.
The pest is usually found in warmer climates like Mediterranean countries, North America and Africa, but will invade cooler regions if temperatures permit. The larva feeds on the under-surface of leaves, while the fully grown beet armyworm devours foliage, only leaving major veins.
The RADA official urged Jamaica's farmers to reduce their acreage of scallion when replanting, as replanting the same crop without rotation would increase the chances of a new outbreak.
She emphasized the scope of the impact the beet armyworm outbreak has had, pointing out that consumers and food processors will also be affected significantly. “Our (food) processors will feel it as well, because they are the ones who will not be able to meet their obligation to the market with the value-added products, and we consider this very serious,” Young expressed.
RADA, along with Jamaica's Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, is working closely with the farmers in the affected areas to provide the necessary tools and technical advice to combat the outbreak.