A team of biologists and technicians from the Valencian Institute of Agrarian Research (IVIA) have been working for a little more than a year in the insectarium that the Ministry of Agriculture has in the Valencian municipality of Almassora to reproduce a parasitoid that could put an end to the cotonet plague.
Almassora is a few kilometers away from what is considered ground zero of the cotonet in Spain; a pest that originated in South Africa and that is ravaging citrus production in the region of la Plana Baixa, the most affected region in the province of Castellon, where it is already present in almost nine out of ten plots, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The researchers are working in the insectarium to reproduce the Anagyrus aberiare, a parasitoid that acts mercilessly against the cotonet. The female of this insect punctures the larvae of the cotonet and lays her eggs in them. When the eggs hatch, the insects eat their host's larvae from within.
“The release of this parasitoid, imported directly from South Africa, is giving good results. However, we haven't ruled out looking for other biological solutions. The more enemies, the better,” stated Vicente Dalmau, head of the Plant Health Service of the Generalitat Valenciana.
The Generalitat gas carried out 206 releases of Anagyrus in 108 different points of the three Valencian provinces since the Ministry authorized them to do so, a year ago. They have been released in 37 municipalities in 12 regions, although the majority have been released in Plana Baixa.
In addition to releasing this parasitoid, the Ministry has distributed more than 1.7 million devices with pheromones to fight the plague (in Plana Baixa alone they distributed 787,450 devices) that have allowed producers to cover more than 7,600 hectares of cultivation. "We are the Community that dedicates the most budget to fighting pests and the budget for 2021 has increased by 6 million euro, to 26 million," stated Roger Llanes, the regional secretary of Agriculture.
But are all these measures enough? In the opinion of the farmers, no. “The solution, unfortunately, is not automatic. Biological control has a medium-term effect. There has been a significant population increase. We are doing and will continue to do everything in our power to try to control it,” Llanes stated.