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November 20, 2013

"Phytosanitary Emergency" in Brazil to Facilitate Chemical Use

The deceleration by the Brazilian Minister of Agriculture of a state of "phytosanitary emergency" for the states of Mato Grosso and Bahia demonstrates the level of concern everyone has in Brazil about the Helicoverpa caterpillar or more commonly known as the corn earworm. The declaration was made in order to facilitate the use of chemicals that are not registered in Brazil to control the insect. Since the pest is new to Brazil, the chemicals best suited to control the insect were never registered for use in Brazil and it would take too long to go through the normal registration process, thus the emergency decree.

Now that the Minister has declared an emergency, the governor of the state must also follow suit with his own declaration and then the farmers can petition the state to have their farm registered as an area where the insect is present. Only after their farm has been registered with the state will they be allowed to use the chemicals best suited to control the insect, but there is a big Catch-22.

They can't register their farm until the insect has been officially confirmed as being present. Once it is confirmed, it could take several weeks before their property is registered with the state government and they are given permission to use the new chemicals. In the meantime, the caterpillar could be happily munching away on the farmer's crops. Farmers in the state of Bahia will be allowed to use the chemicals immediately since they had already confirmed the presence of the insect last growing season. Farmers in the state of Mato Grosso feel they are not being treated fairly and that they should be immediately allowed to use the same chemicals.

Even though the name is corn earworm, the insect has the potential to harm the corn, soybean, and cotton crops in Brazil. The Mato Grosso Institute of Agricultural Economics (Imea) estimates that farmers in the state will spend up to R$ 262 per hectare of soybeans this growing season on insecticides or 92% more than last year. The increase is due to the additional applications expected to be needed to control the insect. Mato Grosso is responsible for 29% of the soybeans produced in Brazil, 28% of the corn, and 50% of the cotton.

Scientists are urging farmers to not rely on just one group of chemicals. They are advising farmers to rotate the type of chemicals used in order to have different modes of action to control the insect. More long term they feel farmers must pay closer attention to eliminating any volunteer soybean, corn, or cotton plants in between growing seasons. Since there are no cold temperatures to kill off the insect during the winter, these volunteer plants could act as a bridge for the insect from one growing season to the next.