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Syngenta: Stopping the march of the Fall Armyworm

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Examples of Fall Armyworm damage. Note how the pest can be thoroughly devastating on the developing corn plant. (Photo credit to: Fedencio Pasion, Jr.)

Since it landed in Africa from its native South America in 2016, Spodoptera frugiperda, or the lepidopteran Fall Armyworm (FAW) has quietly eaten a path to Asia. The continent’s favorable sub-tropical environment and crops provided a steady medium of growth. It enabled this insect horde to reach India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and China– the second largest producer of corn in the world. In the Philippines, the pest has been spotted in Cagayan Valley– the country’s top corn area. Government and agricultural companies are coordinating and monitoring the spread of this pest before it affects the nation’s production.

Spodoptera frugiperda, the Fall Armyworm. Note the distinct upside down Y on the head.

The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that the country produces more than 7.5 million metric tons of corn annually for both human and livestock feed use. About 20% of national corn production comes from Cagayan Valley thus making Fall Armyworm a concern for farmers. From there, it can spread to other corn growing regions. However, FAW can also feed on other crops even if there is no corn.

An adult FAW moth lays an average of 1500 eggs in its lifespan, in clusters of 150 to 200 eggs on plants. Once hatched, the larvae feed at any crop stage, in daytime and in nighttime, with the most damage done during the pre-tasseling stages of corn. Larvae attack inside the whorls and destroys the developing tassel. It also burrows into the side of the corn cob and damages kernels. Larva can also transfer from plant to plant if carried by the wind. A FAW attack reduces grain harvest and quality, with yield losses potentially as high as 60%.

It is critical for farmers to properly identify this pest before implementing any control measures. To spot FAW infestation farmers should conduct regular scouting of corn fields at three to four weeks after emergence and through to the seventh week. The Fall Armyworm can be recognized through its dark head with distinct upside-down Y in the front. Based on experience of other countries where the pest appeared, farmers can employ different cultural practices to limit its impact. These include: Deep ploughing before sowing to expose pupae to predators; clean cultivation and balanced use of fertilizers; timely planting or sowing, to limit plant stages susceptible to FAW attack; planting of maize hybrids with tight husk cover to minimize ear damage; use of pheromone traps. Chemical control can also be done if pest damage is observed at 5%. Available Bt-corn varieties may also exhibit some form of suppression or resistance to Fall Armyworm but this could only be temporary.

Syngenta’s Virtako communication poster informing farmers about FAW control

Syngenta Philippines proposes a combination of cultural practices, durable corn varieties and crop protection products to control FAW. As a true global leader in crop protection, Syngenta is now the first to secure approval for control versus Fall Armyworm in the Philippines. Backed with its proven performance against lepidopteran pests, Virtako is Syngenta’s first offering against FAW. The product can be applied twice throughout the corn production cycle. First application is at three to four weeks (or seedling) stages at a rate of 2 sprays with 150 milligrams per hectare. Second application within V7 (28 days) through to VT (55 days) at the same rate. Virtako gives the farmer an immediate means to control this economically ruinous pest in his field.

In terms of overall outlook, there is no certainty on how FAW can quickly spread across the Philippines. Syngenta Philippines commits itself to the proactive protection of the livelihood of the Filipino farmer. The company pledges to launch other crop protection products and new seed varieties that are suitable to control this threat.

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