Parasitic black beetle destroys crops in the west
AS concern increases in the western end of the island about a parasitic black beetle that destroys plant blossoms and fruit, Ministry of Agriculture officials appear at a loss about how to deal with the insect.
According to farmer/optometrist, Dr Russell Gruhlke, some fruit trees at his farm in Caledonia, Westmoreland, were stripped by the beetles last month.
“Within one day, they destroyed about 14 heavily laden Otaheiti apple trees,” he told the Observer Thursday. “This could be a national disaster. They used to come in by the thousands from about 8:00 am. And by 10:00 am, the limbs of the trees were bent down under their weight.”
He added that the beetles have since stopped plaguing his farm, but they were seen on a nearby poincianna plant about two days ago.
The poincianna appears to be the host plant for the macraspis tetradactyla beetle, which RADA said, has also been spotted in Bluefields in the parish. But the insect also feeds on the blossoms and fruit of the pimento, breadfruit, and other food-bearing plants such as the avocado, and ackee.
Its presence and voracious eating habits has alarmed ackee growers in the parish who had seen the recent lift of the US’s ban on the fruit as a first step in getting a toehold in the export market.
While the black beetle has only been positively identified in one parish since this year, it has reportedly been in the island since 1921 and there was a problem with them attacking gungo trees in St Andrew in 1991.
There have been two research papers prepared on the beetle, but still very little is known about it.
“There was no solution found (from the research papers) for the problem,” said RADA’s Westmoreland parish manager, Conrad Thurkur. “We still don’t know how to deal with it, and I’m being honest with you on that. Right now, we can only spray and try to identify where they are coming from.”
But Dr Gruhlke has dismissed spraying as an option.
“It’s not easy to knock them out with the spray,” he said. “They take about a day to die, and by that time they have destroyed the fruit. We have to find the cycles they go through, their mating habits, where they nest at night. It seems that RADA is just going by hearsay.”
Agriculturist, developer, and president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce, Mark Kerr Jarrett, echoed his criticism of RADA’s handling of the situation.
“RADA has again failed in their job in putting in any kind of maintenance and quarantine type procedures,” he said at a Wednesday’s Chamber meeting. “The plant protection people have failed us again.”
Kerr Jarrett compared the agriculture ministry’s response to the black beetle to the outbreak of papaya ring spot disease in the early ’90s.
“The ring spot virus was found in the Old Harbour area, I was part of a committee that was put together that met with the ministry of agriculture,” he said. “An eradication programme was done, but a maintenance programme was never put in place and seven years later we had a massive outbreak of papaya ring spot on the North Coast.”
But according to RADA’s Thurkur, they are now in the process of an educational campaign to make farmers aware of the presence of the beetle.
“We took specimens from Dr Gruhkle’s farm and sent them across the island so it will be easier to identify the beetle,” he said. “The specimens should be in the hands of parish officers because I collected over 100 beetles at the doctor’s farm and they were to be distributed by extension officers across the island.”