Trinidad and Tobago: Melon farmers hit hard by crop disease

Because of continuous rains throughout this year watermelon farmers in the Bush Bush area of Kernahan, Mayaro, lost thousands of dollars worth of watermelon crops.

Ramsingh Mahabir, a melon farmer for the past 27 years, pointed to the hillside that was now replanted with a fresh crop.

"Farmers in Bush Bush usually plant watermelon on hilly land so that the water would not affect the crop. There is too much water on the flat for crops to grow. However, this year, with the months of rain, the hill land remained wet. The coldness brought on the dreaded 'gummy stem blight disease'. This disease is caused by the fungus Didymella bryonia. It affects the leaves with what we call 'bacteria leaf spot' and there is oozing of a gummy substance from the infected stem.

Mahabir and other farmers counted their losses that amounted to more than $15,000 in investment and much more in potential sales.

The dry season also brings woes to melon farmers.

Mahabir shook some leaves over a sheet of writing paper and dozens of minute insects were seen crawling over the white surface.

This was the thrips insect. This one-millimetre-long insect represents one of the many headaches that melon farmers are forced to face. The thrips insect feeds at night, puncturing and sucking up the melon. One thrips lays between 500 to 700 eggs. This species of thrips is considered a pest because it feeds on plants with commercial value.

When farmers thought that their troubles had passed for this year, they have now discovered a new threat to their melon crops. Mahabir picked up a melon inflicted with vertical cracks along the top half.

"None of the farmers knows what disease this is. This is a new disease that is destroying melon crops throughout the area. When you see these cracks appear you know that the inside of the melon will be affected. This field was planted almost two and a half months ago, which means that it is just about ready to be harvested. Now with this new disease, it looks like we will suffer more losses.

Mahabir has since sent a sample to be tested at the Research Division, Central Experiment Station of the Ministry of Food Production, Land and Marine Affairs.


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