May 28, 2013

Brazilian Scientists Worry about Invasive Pests and Diseases

Agricultural specialists in Brazil are concerned about the potential for invasive species of plant pests arriving in the country. At a recent meeting of crop specialists in Sao Paulo, 150 potential new pest problems that could affect Brazilian crops were identified including insects, plants, fungus, and viruses. It is estimated that at least 12 of the identified pests will enter Brazil from neighboring countries by the year 2020.

The center-west region of Brazil including Mato Grosso and Goias is expected to be the area most impacted by these invasive pests because of its long border with neighboring countries. Curiously, most of the new invasive species in Brazil have entered into Brazil from its northern neighbors.

The most recent example of a new plant pest is a leaf-eating caterpillar that has caused R$ 2 billion in damages during the 2012/13 growing season in northeastern Brazil alone. The caterpillar, which is sometimes called corn earworms or cotton bollworms, infested cotton, soybean and corn crops in the region. Farmers who did not aggressively attempt to control the pest saw their production significantly impacted by the pest. The pest was first identified in northeastern Brazil two years ago and since then it has become a major problem for producers in the region.

Another pest that worries researchers is a fungal disease that attacks cacao plants, which is the source of chocolate production. The disease called monilia do cacaueiro is caused by the fungus Moniliophthora roreri and it can cause losses of 50% to 100% in cacao plantations. It first appeared in Central America in the early 1900's and has been spreading steadily toward Brazil ever since. It is currently in Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia and researchers estimate that it could be found in Brazil within two years. Controlling the disease can be very difficult especially for producers who are unfamiliar with the disease. Most at risk are the 500,000 hectares of cacao plantations in southern Bahia.

New diseases require new tools to combat the disease, but the slow approval process for new agricultural chemicals in Brazil worries scientists. They point to the fact that the fungal disease that attacks cacao plants can cause economic loses as soon as two weeks after introduction and that the current approval process for new chemicals takes years for approval not weeks.