Armyworms or swarming caterpillars have invaded paddy nurseries, devouring young plants at Nagarle and surrounding villages in Nanjangud taluk.
What is alarming is that the pests have infested the plants at the nursery stage, which may delay paddy transplantation in fields, which had been prepared for the season.
More than 60 acres of paddy nurseries have been hit by the pest, which can devour the entire plant swiftly. Besides paddy, armyworms have also infested jasmine (kakada mallige) plants in the area.
“Infestation at the nursery stage cannot be neglected. Armyworms can be disastrous and bring down the yield significantly. The infection can spread fast, even to other crops, such as maize. Farmers are unaware of the damage these insects can do,” said chief scientist Arun Belamatti, who heads the ICAR JSS Krishi Vignana Kendra at Suttur.
Dr. Belamatti told The Hindu that armyworm infestation was reported in three taluks last year, but during the harvesting stage. This year, the worms have made early invasions.
But the scientist gives us hope. He said the infection can be controlled if measures are taken on a community basis as armyworms can migrate quickly, from one field to another. Simultaneous remedial measures work better, he added.
The Department of Agriculture has been alerted about the armyworm outbreak. The worms had affected maize crop significantly in Haveri and Belagavi districts in December last.
Last year’s slump
Last year, the disease reduced paddy production from 20 quintals an acre to 12 to 14 quintals an acre in three taluks. The average yield had slumped by around 40%, according to Dr. Belamatti.
Plant scientists, who visited the armyworm-infected nurseries in Nagarle village, said that pesticide solution should be sprayed in the afternoon when the insects climb up the plants. The insects remain at the ground in the mornings and spraying then won’t help, they said.