Black head caterpillars are spreading fast in Namakkal, Rasipuram taluks

“Involvement of farmers is more important to save coconut trees from the fast-spreading damage caused by black head caterpillars, than solely depending on the agriculture department to come out with a solution,” Joint Director of Agriculture A. Prabakaran told The Hindu after inspecting some of the worst hit groves in Namakkal and Rasipuram Taluks.

“Coconut cultivated across a few thousand acres has been affected by the caterpillar and it is spreading fast in the summer — which favours its multiplication. Farmers seek distribution of predators of the caterpillar to get rid of them. There are a host of problems in producing such large volume of predators to meet the enormous requirement,” he added. According to him the main constraint is unfavourable climatic conditions for multiplication of the predators during summer, as the temperature should be lower.

He said that on the other hand the laboratory that is dedicated to multiplication of the predator on the Mohanur Road in Velur can only meet the requirements of 500 hectares of coconut cultivation.

“A proposal has been submitted to officials concerned, seeking additional funds to gear up multiplication of the predator and to maintain favourable conditions artificially by using air coolers,” he said and made an appeal to farmers to try other modes of controlling spread of black head caterpillar.

Subject Matter Specialist (Agronomy) at the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) S. Alagudurai said that farmers should identify affected trees at a very early stage, cut down the affected leaves and burn them.

“The caterpillar has a lifetime of just seven weeks during which it develops into a pupa and an adult that lays an average 135 eggs. Burning the affected leaves will save other trees in that vicinity,” he said.

He said that controlling the caterpillar needs an integrated approach as about 600 caterpillars can completely destroy a coconut tree in less than two weeks.

“There are many neem-based and chemical pesticides that can be sprayed below the affected leaves, while root feeding of pesticides at 10 ml per affected tree should also be followed,” he added.

Mr. Alagudurai said that root feeding is more effective than using predators. The pesticide has to be mixed with an equal quantity of water and poured into a packet.

A red root of the affected tree should be soaked in the solution to help the pesticide reach the ends of the tree and kill the caterpillar when it eats the leaf.

Farmers claimed that root feeding cannot be followed due to human resource shortage and the presence of residues of the pesticides in coconuts for close to 45 days after root feeding was done.

Mr. Prabaharan explained that farmers will have 90 days to cut coconuts from a tree from which they take coconuts once.

“This will give them ample time to root feed twice without affecting the farmers and consumers,” he clarified.