A model developed by the Pune-based Shree Vighnahar Cooperative Sugar Mill, to fight the infestation of white grub (Holotrichia serrata) insect larvae in sugarcane fields, is going to be upscaled for the state ahead of the next crushing season. Both the sugar commissioner and agriculture commissioner have undertaken an outreach drive to ensure that the model is used across the state.
White grub refers to the larvae of beetles that lay eggs on the fields, usually around June, and these eggs hatch into larvae in 10-15 days. The larval stage lasts for up to seven months, after which the grubs pupate. The adult beetles emerge from the dormant pupae stage with the first monsoon showers in the following June. They lay eggs, thereby completing their lifecycle.
For cane growers, the larvae stage is the most dangerous. The soil-inhabiting white grub survives by chewing the roots of the growing plant, and the effects of this are visible only when the cane starts wilting. The leaves start turning yellow and then dry up, but by then, it is too late for the farmer to take any measures to rectify the situation.
Of the 11 lakh hectares of cane area available for the crushing season of 2018-19, such infestation was reported in over 1.5 lakh hectares. The districts of Pune and Solapur had been worst hit by the infestation, with some farmers reporting almost 100 per cent crop loss.
The Shree Vighnahar Cooperative Sugar Mill, located in Junnar taluka, has been fighting this infestation by adopting an integrated approach. The mill management has focused on attacking the insect during its most visible phase — when the adult beetles pupates. The adult beetles emerge from the ground in June-August after the monsoon rains. These insects then fly to the nearest neem, sababul or mango tree within a 2-2.5 km radius of the cane field and mate. Once that is over, the female beetles fly back underground to lay their eggs before the break of dawn.
Since 2003-2004, the mill has been paying its member farmers for every kg of bettle caught. All the farmers have to do is to shake the trees where the beetles are nesting and catch them in a makeshift water or oil trap. Some farmers also set up shallow pits under such trees to trap the beetles after shaking the tree.
Agriculture Commissioner Suhas Diwase said the model will be upscaled for the entire state. “Along with the sugar commissioner, the department will hold meetings with mills and ask them to take up this method to control the infestation,” he said.
Sugar Commissioner Shekhar Gaikwad said the model has been introduced during the regional meetings between his office and representatives of mills. “Of course this model will not work if the infestation area is less. Mills will be asked to develop their own models to control the infestation,” he said.