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Army worm eats through profits

Feb 19 2017 07:23
Avantika Seeth

Johannesburg - South African maize farmers face lower profits in the coming season as they have to spend thousands more on pesticides to fight an army worm invasion.

Fortunately for consumers, the fears about the impact of the army worm invasion haven’t yet increased maize and food prices.

The fall army worm, which has invaded farms across the country, was difficult and expensive to control, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and was already causing extensive damage to food crops, mainly maize.

Adel Prinsloo, who has a maize farm in Onderstepoort, north Pretoria, said she first discovered the presence of the worm on her farm about four weeks ago, and she has had what seems like a losing battle against the pest since then.

“In the last three weeks, I have spent about R50 000 towards purchasing pesticides, and even that doesn’t work against the worm,” Prinsloo said.

On average, over a three to four- month period, Prinsloo would ordinarliy spend about R30 000.

Corne Louw, a Grain South Africa economist, said that the biggest loss being suffered was the money being spent by farmers on an extra spraying programme.

“This will put them under severe financial strain as this extra cost cannot be given through to the market and the producer must absorb it,” Louw added.

A spraying programme has been implemented by farmers as a contingency plan to control the outbreak of the worm.

“The worm has spread quickly, but producers are using recommended spraying programmes when the worms are identified in their crops,” Louw said.

She said the extent of the damage would only be known when the crop grew and got harvested.

Turning to the maize price, managing director of Farmwise Grains Jannie van Heerden said that at this stage there had not been a significant change in the prices of maize futures on the JSE as result of the army worm invasion.

“As far as I am aware, the situation is not widespread and because of this we haven’t seen a change in the prices,” Van Heerden said.

The threat posed by the army worms led to an emergency meeting this week with experts from sixteen east and southern African countries in attendance in Harare, Zimbabwe.

They identified gaps in the region’s early warning systems, response, preparedness, contingency planning including information dissemination and effective regional coordination,” the UN FAO said.

While South Africa is still not able to provide a figure on the damage that has been caused to crops, in particular maize crops which the army worm prefers, reports coming in from other African countries paint a bleak picture of what is to be expected should the matter not be contained.

“Zambia has reported that almost 90 000 hectares of maize have been affected, forcing farmers to replant their crops. In Malawi about 17 000 hectares have been affected while in Namibia, approximately 50 000 hectares of maize and millet have been damaged and in Zimbabwe up to 130 000 hectares could be affected thus far,” the UN FAO said.

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