Pests in SA maize ‘strongly suspected’ being armyworms – scientist

JOHANNESBURG – A larvae outbreak that’s damaged maize in South Africa’s Limpopo and North West provinces is “strongly suspected” to get the invasive armyworm which has attacked crops in neighbouring countries, a scientist said on Monday.

The infestation of fall armyworms – an invasive Central American species that could be harder to detect and eradicate than its African counterpart – has erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and follows a crippling El Nino-triggered drought which scorched high of the area a year ago.

Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on his or her agricultural products since the armyworm is classified being a quarantine pest.

Johnnie van den Berg, an entomologist at South Africa’s North-West University who have collected samples from affected farms, said taxonomic tests happen to be for confirmation.

“It has to be recognized by a taxonomist but we strongly suspect oahu is the fall armyworm … Visually, it seems 100% exactly the same,” he told Reuters in the phone interview.??

“It is usually confirmed by the end of in the week,” he explained.

Van den Berg said coverage in Africa was not “blanket”, with outbreaks reported many kilometres (miles) apart from time to time, but northern Limpopo province, bordering Zimbabwe, appears to be the epicentre.

The impact varies: some farms have gotten minimal leaf damage, others have already been devastated.

“On some farms, there’s been 90% damage and the majority of the leaves have already been stripped on the plant. It appears as though a row of broom sticks,” he said.

South Africa is expected to enjoy a maize surplus this year following a deficit this past year when 7.5 million tonnes of maize was produced against national need for 10.5 million tonnes.

Industry sources have said while an armyworm outbreak could be unlikely to push the crop into deficit it could possibly lower the sized the expected surplus.

“This fall armyworm is often a Central American pest. Want have to do more research to check out where and how it establishes itself,” Van den Berg said.

He said the continental invasion began in July with outbreaks in Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe. It remains unclear the actual way it jumped round the Atlantic.

But the moths can be carried long distances by wind and can have winged across central Africa this way.

The moths lay eggs in maize plants plus the caterpillars was known to march en masse through the landscape – and so the name.

Agriculture minister says cannot yet tell impact of pest on output

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