Environment-Friendly Mites Remove Pests from Strawberries

Some strawberry farmers in Itogon, Benguet hope to get a boost in the yield this season with the recent introduction of the predator mites. These predator mites prey on the spider mites that eat a whole bunch of leaves and flowers within a day.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (256 kms north of Manila) — Some strawberry farmers here hope to get a boost in the yield this season with the recent introduction of the predator mites. These predator mites prey on the spider mites that eat a whole bunch of leaves and flowers within a day.

The third release of the pest control mites was doneDec. 18 at the swamp in Betag, here, with the ceremonial release led by Benguet State University (BSU) President Rogelio Colting and Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan.

The period between October and November used to be picking season in the La Trinidad strawberry farms. This year, however, most farms have not been yielding the luscious red berries, although there are plots which were opened for the ceremonial picking with media persons among the luckier first batch of pickers.

“This is the right timing to release the predators,” according to La Trinidad Municipal Agriculturist Felicitas D. Ticbaen. The leaves are forming, flowers starting to bloom and green fruits emerging. This is the perfect timing when the spider mites would start to eat the young leaves, she said.

According to Prof. Maria Ana C. Tanyag, chairperson of the BSU Department of Entomology, the microscopic spider mites, feed on leaves, flowers and fruits. The predator mites, one of around 10, that were eating the destructive insects were discovered in a study done by Tanyag on spider mites two years ago.

BSU is now maintaining a mites rearing house, one among four rearing stations that propagate both spider and predator mites, which include those of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist (OPAg) in Barangay (village) Bahong.

Research Assistant Gemma Sabas, also of the BSU Biological Control of Phytophagos Mites project, said spider mites are needed to maintain the population of the predators, lest they die, because they do not feed on plants.

Besides spider mites, strawberries also get infested with army worms. “These are small worms that cause the leaves or the whole plant to wither. When they attack the new fruit, it could not grow as expected,” a farmer volunteered.

He said no amount of insecticide could control the army worms.

Tanyag clarified that any type of pest could develop a resistance to pesticides, especially with continuous exposure to the chemicals. “If they keep spraying, even the eggs get the substance and develop resistance,” she said.

In another interview, Ticbaen said the introduction of the friendly insects in the fields may revert the practice of pest control to the environment-friendly approaches.

“Rather than putting more chemicals on the strawberry fields, farmers now use the less harmful products,” Ticbaen said.

Tourists frequent the strawberry fields to pick the fruits directly, or buy freshly picked ones in baskets or in boxes. The picking requires that the fields have not been sprayed with pesticides in the last three days prior to the opening of the fields for pickers.

“Remember that tourists come almost daily so you have to use the types that dissipate in a period of at least eight hours after application,” warned Fongwan, who is a farmer by vocation. He cited certain brands of pesticides which have been banned in the country, but which are still in use in many farms in Benguet.

With the predator mites, Colting expects a balanced environment in the strawberry fields as he hopes to establish a good biodiversity in the farms. He iterated the plan for the conversion of the farms into organic agriculture, with 12 farmers as initial beneficiaries of the program.

In the program, farmers were allowed to cultivate 1,000 square meters each in the strawberry fields. They availed of non-interest loans and are beneficiaries of farm innovations and inputs.

A farmer in the strawberry fields admitted that the practice is to use the stronger pesticides in the first two months from seedling transplanting. After that, he said, farmers shift to other types which are less harmful to both pests and farmers.

Constant field monitoring for further infestation would be done to determine where to release the predator mites. Farmers will also be trained to breed their own predator mites, according to Tanyag. Northern Dispatch / Posted byBulatlat.com

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