By Jeffy Gomez, Luciano Chi, Luis Gongora and Jian Cob
Froghopper is considered a major pest in sugarcane; every crop cycle it affects sugarcane farmers by increasing control costs while decreasing productivity. The problem is especially serious with the elimination of the preferential market for Belize’s sugar. Hence, it is of great importance to start adapting more environmentally-friendly controls by deterring the use of chemicals and meeting standards set by the Fairtrade market.
With the assistance of the European Union (EU), the Government of Belize (GOB) and the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI), the project entitled “Strengthening of Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) in the Sugar Industry” is being implemented in the northern sugar belt. The aim of the project is to create a competitive and diversified sugar industry that contributes to a sustainable environment for sugar production in Belize. The incorporation of an IPDM program which is based on ecological principles, considering the agro-system as a whole, is to complement and reinforce what farmers have been practicing in their fields. These practices include the on-time application of mechanical, cultural and biological control methods.
The use of a biological agent such as Metarhizium anisopliae, presents a “new” and integrated approach to prevent and control froghopper infestation. It has been reported that this biological agent can infect approximately 200 species of insects and arthropods such as termites, ticks and weevils just to mention a few. In contrast, studies have demonstrated that irrational use of pesticides for its control leads to serious environmental and human health problems, as well as pest resistance. The cost of chemical control is approximately up to 80% more expensive compared to a biological control agent.
The recommended dosage application for the metarhizium is determined by the product sporalation count and virulance of which is determined by the laboratory officer at the time of production. Nevertheless, the main objective is for the product to be accesible to all farmers in the northern sugarbelt at a reasonable price, inclusive of the livestock, citrus and organic productive sector. Marketing campaigns have been initiated through SIRDI’s Farmer Field School Program and field days activites complemented with morning talk shows, radio and TV advertisement. The contemplation is for a communication and visibility strategic plan alongside a sustainability plan; a cost benefit analysis is to be perfomred after the project life cycle.
The process required to obtain an effective biological pesticide such as metarhizium is: collection, isolation, characterization and multiplication. It is crucial to perform this process correctly so as to establish the base for the future development of the fungus. This fundamental step requires developing a complete profile of the entomopathogenic fungus in order to be evaluated as a potential biological agent for its multiplication. Metarhizium anisopliae attacks specific insects initially by attaching its spores, known as conidia, on the cuticle of the insect. It then produces an appressorium and penetrates the insect. Upon successful entry into the host body, it divides and produces hyphal bodies that invade the host tissues. Finally, the fungus emerges from the dead host and produces more conidial spores (figure 1).
The SIRDI EU IPDM laboratory, which is scheduled to start construction on August of 2017, is intended to produce biological control agents including the production of M. anisopliae for immediate distribution and use by the sugar industry by February 2018. The laboratory will include the following equipped stations: a.) quality control, b.) preparation of substrate, c.) inoculation, d.) incubation, e.) drying, f.) formulation and packaging, and g.) storage. As whole grain, the rice (substrate) is washed, dried and placed on auto-cleavable bags. After sterilization, the rice is cooled down to room temperature and then inoculated with a solution containing the fungus, purified water, sugar, malt, and yeast. The inoculated bags are then placed in the incubation room for 15 days and transferred to the drying room for 7 days after which the rice is washed and the M. anisopliae can be applied to the field. Each process requires strict sterile practices and conditions which include the use of face masks, gloves and lab coats. It is important to constantly disinfect the working area with alcohol or sodium hypochlorite solutions.
Finally, sugarcane farmers and all other industries in Belize will have access to the Metarhizium anisopliae at an accessible price, since this biological pesticide can also control pests within the poultry, organic production, vegetable and fruits and citrus industries.