TACLOBAN CITY, Leyte, March 20 - The Department of Agriculture, Regional Field Office 8 (DA-8), has deployed a team of regional technical staff to provide farmers for any possible assistance including the conduct of capability enhancement training of technicians on pest management as reports of crop diseases and pest infestations keep coming every now and then.

In the latest report of pest infestation and crop diseases reaching the DA regional office, Dr. Carlos S. de la Cruz, head of DA-8’s  Quick Response Team said that more or less 4,000 hectares of rice crops have been affected by the Bacterial Leaf Blight  (BLB) and Brown Plant hopper (BPH)  in the  provinces of Northern and Eastern Samar, respectively.

Said pest infestation was first observed and reported by an Agricultural Technician from Palapag, Nothern Samar on January 5, 2017 or roughly more than two months ago. 

Instantaneously, rice experts from the region gave technical advice to the LGU-based technicians to closely monitor the affected rice fields and exercise precautionary measures which include the immediate draining of paddies, application of muriate of potash or bactericide and to report any development to the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC). 

Subsequently, similar incidents occurred in Victoria and Las Navas, also in Northern Samar which later on stretched out further to some more areas in the said province.

On the other hand, reports of BPH infestation in Eastern Samar started off on February 28, 2017 which was first reported by the Municipal Agriculture Office of San Julian, Eastern Samar. Almost simultaneously, six more municipalities reported similar incidents in their rice fields enough to raise some alarm signals to the agriculture officials in the DA Regional Office.

Plant pest and disease experts from the Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC), the Regulatory Division and information officers from the Regional Agriculture and Fisheries Information Section (RAFIS) were immediately sent out to the different affected municipalities in Northern Samar from February 15-20, 2017 and Eastern Samar on March 7-9, 2017 or a week after reports of such infestation incidents happened.

As of press time, there were nine municipalities of Northern Samar (Palapag, Las Navas, Lao-ang, Victoria, Allen, Lavezares, Rosario, San Jose and Catarman),  and seven in Eastern Samar (San Julian, Sulat, Taft, Dolores, Oras, Arteche and Jipapad) have already submitted their respective damage reports and the total estimated loss value is still undergoing further verification and assessment by the DA’s Rice Program Management Unit (RPMU).

Meanwhile, the DA-RFO8 is now seeking the help of the municipal agriculture officers as well as the farmers themselves to adopt some mitigating measures or pest management practices such as continuous monitoring of rice fields, immediate harvesting of remaining matured crops still unaffected by pests and diseases, light trapping, metarhizium spray, judicious use of nitrogen fertilizers, among others. 

An information   and training of LGU-based technicians and farmers involved in the surveillance and monitoring activities has been undertaken in Northern Samar Since February 15 and in Eastern Samar (March 13-17) in a bid to minimize the effects of the infestation and, at the same time, prevent the spread of the disease to areas not yet affected by the pests to ensure that the same pest problem will not resurge in the next cropping season.

“The DA will train the farmers how to program their planting and harvest schedule," Dr. de la Cruz said. “We will also conduct light trapping in the affected rice fields and distribute biocon agents such as metarhizium to control the infestation."

Based on previous studies conducted by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), the BLB stopper, a copper-based fungicide is no longer applicable because the rice crops are already mature and to suppress and mitigate the disease, it is recommended that burning the affected rice straws and stubbles will largely help to kill the pathogens that are present in the areas. In the case of BPH infestation, same process of burning is likewise encouraged in order to prevent the spread of the pest and eliminate source of inoculum for grassy and ragged stunt virus disease.

Accordingly, BLB and BPH developed due to ANY of the following factors: high humidity (>90%) with temperature of 25-32 degrees Celsius  as what actually happened in these areas since the outset of the new year; excessive use of nitrogenous fertilizer (more than what is recommended); closer crop canopy; and indiscriminate use of pesticide especially at the early stage of the crop which kill their natural enemies.

In his report to OIC-RED U-Nichols A. Manalo, Director Andrew Orais, Assistant Regional Director for Operations, disclosed that the DA-RFO 8 is now coordinating closely with the provincial and municipal local government units and advised farmers to immediately harvest areas with already matured crops and report immediately any observance of sudden surge of pest and disease infection.

The DA has also urged LGUs to produce their own biocon agents to cater the needs of the farmers in their respective areas of jurisdiction. (PR-DA8)