Crop health is vital – African Farming

Pests and diseases cause major crop losses worldwide and South Africa is no exception, as pathways for new pests to enter previously pest-free environments grow. Healthy plants have better immunity and are less susceptible to attacks from pests and diseases. That is why plant health should be a priority in any crop protection campaign. 

The prevention and control of pests, weeds and diseases keep infestations and invasions to a minimum, maintain healthy crops and translate to sustainable crop farming and the survival of agribusiness.

“Plants under stress are very susceptible to diseases but many plant diseases are preventable,” says Lemang Agricultural Services CEO Praveen Dwarika. He advises farmers to have effective monitoring and scouting programmes in place and to prepare their chemical spraying programmes in good time. 

“This year we had a different season with the rains, and a lot of farmers switched from maize to sunflowers because of the delayed planting window,” he says. These farmers had to adapt their spraying programmes to fit the needs of the new crop, as they had different pests and diseases to manage. 

Food safety awareness and care of the environment must remain in the foreground and farmers are responsible for guaranteeing the safety of the products they use, Dwarika explains. An integrated approach to pest and disease management involves a range of methods – monitoring, technology, mechanical methods, chemicals, crop rotation, biological controls, disease-resistant plant varieties, alteration of planting dates, mulching, building soil health and soil moisture – to ensure plant health and keep diseases at bay.

“It’s wise to follow the advice of chemical companies on the use of various chemicals and stick to their recommendations,” he says. 

Farmers may need to keep fields free of crop residue, as biomass on the fields can become a breeding ground for some pests and diseases. “There is a good chance that diseases are still present and the newly planted crop is vulnerable at emergence. So it is important to maintain disease- and weed-free fields,” Dwarika cautions. An immediate response to any pest or disease threat, identification of the threat, and action to isolate and eradicate the threat are key steps to keeping crops healthy. 

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