The Agriculture Department will soon undertake mass spraying of pesticides on maize fields at the village level to check the spread of Fall Armyworm ( Spodoptera frugiperda ), an invasive pest, which devastated the crop last year.
Sources said on Tuesday that the exercise would be taken up in identified villages and the government has sanctioned ₹47 crore for the first phase in 23 districts.
“We are carrying out an enumeration of the crop position - age wise. Tenders are being called to procure pesticides through the district-level procurement committees. Spraying of pesticides will begin in about a week or 10 days. The exercise will be done in a phased manner as the area of cultivation increases,” a senior official said.
Pesticides recommended by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University would be sprayed on crops less than 45 days old depending on the age of the crop. A neem-based pesticide would be sprayed on crops which are 15 to 20 days old and one of three recommended pesticides would be used on 40 to 45 days old crop. The pesticide would be sprayed through Farmers Interest Groups or other service providers (wherever such groups were not available).
The effort comes in the wake of field reports indicating infestation of the pest in some parts of the State. As per data with the department in mid-September, by which time maize had been raised on about 86,000 ha, the pest infestation was found on about 2,000 hectares (ha) but the area under the crop has crossed two lakh hectares since.
“As it is raining intermittently, the spread of the pest is largely under control. But it could spread fast if there were to be a break in rain spell and good sunshine. To avoid damages as last year, we have initiated the pre-emptive step,” the official said.
With 62% of the cultivated area under attack last year, the State government early this year announced relief to the tune of ₹186.25 crore to affected farmers in 17 districts under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF). Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami had said that 2.20 lakh ha out of the total cultivated area of 3.55 lakh ha had been hit by the pest.
This year, the department had taken elaborate measures at the field level to prevent the pest attack. An integrated pest management protocol was evolved and officers at the field level were asked to ensure its strict compliance. Explaining the rationale for the mass spraying, another officer said that though the situation was under control, the State can hardly afford to relax as the pest spreads very rapidly and is said to have already hit some of the nearby states.
The pest could spread to other crops too.