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Look out for this pretty pest fond of cabbages

Saturday November 17 2018

The beautifully painted Bagrada bug (Bagrada hilaris) has piercing and sucking mouthparts and feeds on both parts of the leaves

The beautifully painted Bagrada bug (Bagrada hilaris) has piercing and sucking mouthparts and feeds on both parts of the leaves (pictured) rendering the crop useless in just a few hours in case control measures are not done. PHOTO | COURTESY 

ANN MACHARIA
By ANN MACHARIA
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If you are a cabbage farmer, especially in areas with a hot weather, then you must have come across a brown insect feeding on your plants.

This pest is called the Bagrada bug (Bagrada hilaris) and is as beautiful as its name, but it is giving farmers a hard time.

The painted bug has piercing and sucking mouthparts and feeds on both parts of the leaves rendering the crop useless in just a few hours in case control measures are not done.

The pest affects young seedlings by feeding on the apical meristem and growing points leading to their death or blind terminals. It also causes forked or multiple heads hence poor production.

I responded to a case of a farmer in Kajiado County, whose cabbages had been attacked by the pest.

Before the farmer called me, he actually thought that he was dealing with a variety of the beautiful lady bird, a reason why he did not bother to respond as first as he should.

“When I saw the pest was attacking the leaves, I tried to pick them but I could not manage because they were quite a number,” the farmer said after some pleasantries.

Indeed, the bug infestation can be controlled by handpicking when the population is quite low, but this was impossible for the farmer growing the crop on half-acre.

The good thing is that this pest can be curbed by chemicals. I recommended to the farmer the use of labdacyhalothrin or deltamethrin, which belong to the pyrethroid family.

Pyrethroids are man-made versions of pyrethrins, the natural insecticides from pyrethrum. The chemicals are very effective in eliminating Bagrada bug.

The farmer used the chemical and eliminated the pest. However, while chemicals are effective, use organic methods to control Bagrada bug such as observing field hygiene, weeding to remove unwanted plants that host the pest and practising mixed farming by growing garlic and onions.

Crop rotation should also be practised by ensuring cabbages are not planted in areas where members of the brassica family (broccoli or cauliflower) had been previously planted.

LOWEST COST POSSIBLE

The pest also affects other cruciferous crops such as sukuma wiki (collard greens), broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and crops such as sunflower, wheat, potatoes, sorghum.

Apart from Kajiado, the pest has also been identified in some parts of Machakos and Kiambu counties. Other pests that affect cabbages include aphids, diamond back moth and cutworms.

It is always recommended that a farmer scouts for pests and diseases to ensure early identification and control before they spread. This also lowers the cost of production and minimises losses.

Well, beside the pest, growing cabbages comes with various challenges going by my interacting with various farmers.

Shikali, a cabbage farmer from Kakamega, informed me on phone that he planted 300 seedlings but ended up with 200 heads of cabbages on half-acre.

He attributed this low succession rate after transplanting to unreliable rainfall and inadequate time to do the watering since the venture is a side hustle for him.

The plant population is too low compared to the land size. To start with, cabbage spacing varies with the variety.

The large headed variety requires larger spacing of about 45cm by 60cm, which results in a plant population of about 11,000 heads per acre ensuring maximum land utilisation and in the long run higher returns especially if one is using irrigation.

Another farmer talked of how her cost of production had increased due to the higher cost of farm inputs and labour.

To curb this, ensure the farmer produces at the lowest cost possible, for example by spraying after scouting for pest and diseases and spraying once the threshold level has been attained and apply fertiliser in compliance to soil test analysis and crop nutrient requirement.

Cabbages mature in 45-100 days depending on the variety, and from an acre, one can harvest 10,000-12,000 heads, with each going for about Sh50 in most markets.