A phenomenon has been noticed in neem tress in all mandals of Kurnool, Anantapur and parts of Kadapa wherein the leaves are turning brown and falling and seem as though they have been burnt.
This has worried the farmers, who are growing it on a commercial scale for extracting several parts of the tree for different requirements. When contacted, Principal Scientist (Entomology) P. Radhika of the Agriculture Research Station, Rekulakunta, told The Hindu that it was an infestation of ‘tea mosquito bug’ (Helopeltis antonii), which was being reported from several regions in the four Rayalaseema districts.
“The bug has affected the neem trees on the ARS Rekulakunta farm also. If the proportion of infestation was large, it leads to death of the tree,” Ms. Radhika said. The current situation, she opined, was not a very serious one, but for a common man it would look very disturbing as the usual leaf shedding season of the tree was February-March and flowering also begins around that time in the southern States and gets delayed till April-May as we move north towards the Himalayas.
In South India, fruits ripen from June to August and the tree starts fruiting at the age of five but the economic yield of fruits is obtained at the age of 10-12. About 3,300-4,500 seeds weigh one kg and on average, a medium-sized tree produces 37-55 kg fruits on a farm.
The bug affects cashew on a largescale in Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and besides neem, it infests grapevine, guava, cashew, mahagony, cacao, cinchona, pepper, tamarind, cinnamon and apple, she explained.
As for pest management, she advises farmers to collect and destroy the damaged plant parts; spray insecticide like profenofos, a 50% Emulsifiable Concentrate 2 ml, Thiamethoxam 25 WG 0.2 g, dimethoate 2 ml per litre of water. The spray should be done early in the morning or late in the evening hours on trunks, branches, foliage and inflorescence for effective control, she adds.