Fall Armyworm detected on sugarcane crops in Tamil Nadu

Worm found in four sugarcane fields in the districts of Erode and Karur

By Jitendra
Published: Monday 10 December 2018
Fall Armyworm in damaged corn shoot. Credit: Getty Images Fall Armyworm in damaged corn shoot. Credit: Getty Images

Scientists have confirmed the presence of the Fall Armyworm (Spodopetra Frugiperda) in four sugarcane fields of two Tamil Nadu districts.

“Our entomologists visited Erode and Karur districts and have confirmed the presence of Spodopetra Frugiperda there. They also assessed the levels of damage to the crop,” Bakshi Ram, Director of the Coimbatore-based ICAR-Sugarcane Breeding Institute, stated in his letter to the Tamil Nadu State Commissioner of Sugar and the State Directorate of Agriculture last week.

Speaking to Down To Earth, Ram said, “Our team found the Fall Armyworm in four fields of the two districts. While such a situation has never been reported before, it is also true that the infestation is not very serious. It can be managed if farmers are made aware”.

The Fall Armyworm caterpillar is native to North America. It is a polyphagous pest, which means that it feeds on many items. It is recorded as eating 186 plant species from 42 families. These include cereals and forage grasses. 

In 2016 and 2017, it had put food security at risk in the whole of Africa by destroying maize crops across the continent.

In August this year, the worm was reported from areas in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. It had attacked and damaged crops like maize, cotton and sorghum. 

As the worm could spread across the sugar belt of Tamil Nadu, Ram says that his institute has been issuing advisories. “We have recommended the use of contact insecticides to farmers”, he told Down To Earth.

A contact insecticide is one that is harmful, damaging or lethal to the target insect when the chemical is absorbed through direct contact. They can be organic, inorganic, or natural insecticides which leave behind a toxic residue; these chemicals include mostly foggers and aerosols.

In August this year, a study titled Forecasting the global extent of invasion of the cereal pest Spodoptera frugiperda, the Fall Armyworm by Regan Early of University of Exeter, UK, and Pablo Gonzalez-Moreno, Sean T Murphy and Roger Day from international non-profit CABI was released.

The study revealed that the Fall Armyworm was spreading from Africa to India through the Southwest monsoon winds that blow from Africa to India every year between June and September. It had also said that freight being transported via air could be another possible means by which the worm had spread.

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