At least three crops, including okra and sorrel, continue to be affected by a newly discovered pest in Antigua and Barbuda. And as a result of the infestation, these items have been scarce on the market.
Dr. Janil Gore-Francis, the Chief Plant Protection Officer, describes the insect as a plant hopper – similar to a grasshopper, green in colour, but smaller. She says the Plant Protection Unit became aware of it after receiving a report about two months ago.
At that time, she says, some samples were obtained and digital samples were sent to the University of Florida to be identified. They were confirmed to be in the family of cicadellidae and belonging to plant hoppers.
Dr. Gore-Francis admits that the Unit still does not know to what species the plant hopper belongs, as yet, since it requires sending a physical sample to be tested.
She is also unable to say whether this pest is actually new, although it is the first time the Unit has received a report of the hopper having this sort of effect on these plants.
In the meantime, before uprooting and discarding any plants that have been impacted by a disease, Dr. Gore-Francis advises farmers to ensure that it is not the newly discovered plant hopper affecting them.
Dr. Gore-Francis notes that planting space is another factor, since the hoppers thrive in a humid environment. Since humidity is increased when the crops are planted too close together, it creates the perfect environment for the pest to be destructive, she says.
And while many farmers may want to get rid of the pests quickly by spraying, the Chief Plant Protection Officer warns that this should be a last resort.
If the situation becomes unbearable, however, a horticultural oil, such as neem oil, is what she recommends.
The Chief says that reports can be made to the Agricultural Extension Division or the Plant Protection Unit’s pest report hotline, which is 462-PEST (or 462-7378). Persons might be required to send a photograph, so that officers can determine what sort of insect has to be dealt with.
While the hopper has been affecting farmers all across Antigua, there has been no report of them on Barbuda, she says.
The situation is improving, however, as Gore-Francis says that farmers have been following the directives to control and eliminate the pest.