If you grow sugarcane in Latin America you will most likely come across larvae of a moth called Diatraea saccharalis, commonly known as the Sugarcane borer. Despite its name, this pest harms more than just sugarcane crops, being related to yield loss in rice, corn, wheat and other cereal grasses.
The first step to eradicate the Sugarcane Borer of your farm is to know what to look for. In order to do that, it is essential to know the physical traits of this insect and its signs on the crop. PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS A fully developed caterpillar (around 40 days) measures 23 millimetres and has a light yellowish body with a brown head. Although the larvae stage is when the pest actually damages the crop, it is important to know what an adult moth looks like, which is a straw-like coloured 25 millimetres moth.
SIGNS IN THE CROP The young caterpillar feeds off sugarcane leaves, and as it grows, it starts feeding of the leaf sheaths until it is able to penetrate in the stalk. The most common signs of damage are wholes and tunnels in the stem, made by the larvae while it is feeding. Through those openings, there is an increased chance of fungus entrance, causing what is known as Sugarcane Red Rot, which significantly decreases the quality and value of the product.
For crops in early stages, that still haven’t developed their stalks, the signs might be seen in the leaves’ petiole in the form of lesions and dry areas, especially of the central leaf, called “deadheart”.
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WHEN TO SCOUT Once it is known how the larvae and moth look like, we can start to look for them in the field. The early reproductive stage is the ideal time to start searching. Larvae might be seen inside leaf sheaths, which is where it stays previously to drilling into the stem. Finding forms of the insect, caterpillars, egg masses or even adults is the best chance for control since when the signs of infestation are seen, it means the pest is already well established in the crop, hindering the efficiency of pesticides. HOW TO CONTROL
There are several ways to control the borer and prevent damage. You can start by prioritizing the use of resistant types of sugarcane, getting rid of plants in the area that might serve as hosts, such as corn and sorghum, and also quickly milling the stalk after harvest and destroying any crop residues on the field.
Studies have shown that another very powerful way to eliminate this pest, are two wasps that can be used for biological control, Trichogramma galloi and Cotesia flavipes, the first one acts as a parasite of the eggs, while the second one kills the Diatraea saccharalis’ caterpillar by laying eggs inside of it. If the two parasitoid wasps are combined, the infestation can be reduced up to 60%.
For chemical control, there are numerous different pesticides that might be used, the important thing is to apply them at the same time the larvae emerge, ensuring they will be killed before entering the stem and causing damage.
And remember, healthy and well-nourished plants have greater resistance to pests and diseases, and in case of infestation, will have its productivity less affected! With the i-Plant Nutrition, you can get an instant assessment of the nutritional status of your crop and detect any deficiencies in a few clicks! (link to software tour)