The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has taken a “hands-on” approach to the management of the local cotton industry, which continues to be under severe threat due to a spiraling pest problem.

As part of an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programme for cotton, recently spearheaded by entomologist, Dr. Yelitza Edwards, some 40-odd farmers, extension officers, cotton project workers and entomologists from across the island were today brought into the ‘classroom’ for an intensive training programme aimed at making them more knowledgeable in pest identification and providing them with various techniques aimed at pest control.

Dr. Edwards said the practical training would allow the members of the cotton farming community to get a look at the various pests which were wreaking havoc on their crops, as well as at the natural enemies (parasitoids) used in their control. Following this, they would be taken into the field for further practical training.

“In many instances farmers detect natural enemies and mistake them for the pests – therefore killing the insects which are supposed to help them. This training would allow them to be more self-sufficient in scouting. The Entomology Unit currently provides this service, but with the training, they can be able to identify the different pests and their thresholds for pesticide application,” she explained.

Dr. Edwards said a simple field manual with pictures had been produced for farmers to better allow them to identify the various pests, including the Pink bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella’, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, ‘, NULL, NULL, 0); the Cotton bollworm (Heliothis virescens and Heliothis zea) and the Thrips, (Scirothrips dosalis) which have been causing major damage.

In addressing the opening of the workshop, Chief Agricultural Officer, Barton Clarke said while farmers were able to do “a fairly good job” of getting the crop established, it “plummeted” during the months of December and January.  This, he underlined, had much to do with “the maximum expression of the pests at a time when our diligence wais at its lowest ebb”.

“If there is to be some measure of a crop to be marketed, then we need to manage it more efficiently at the most critical stage …If we can demonstrate to the world that we can produce cotton without using pesticides, the value of the industry increases significantly,” he contended.

Mr. Clarke, who stressed that the workshop would not be the last, told the participants that during the course of the cotton crop successive workshops would be held to keep them abreast of what was needed.

Pointing out that the overarching plan was to convert cotton from an industry that now produced a small amount of lint, to one which produced final products, the Agricultural spokesman cited analysis which showed that even at US$10 per pound Barbados “cannot be competitive in the global market”. He added that research had also showed that most of the money to be made was at the retail end of the industry.

While painting a positive picture of the islands’ food security status, based on reducing imports in some areas, Mr. Clarke noted that the Pink bollworm remained the major threat to the cotton industry, reducing yields by 50 percent in some instances. He, nevertheless, had positive hopes for this year’s crop.

“Our target is always 1,200 pounds per acre of sea island cotton, which would convert to 400 pounds of lint per acre. We expect that there will be in excess of 300 acres this year. If we do things right, if we manage it effectively, if we control the pests, I would say yes that the production would be better than previous years,” he concluded.

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