Sustainability 21.04.2021

Biological control and new plant varieties to combat sugarcane pests

BP Bunge Bioenergia invests in alternatives to reduce the use of pesticides in its crops

por BP Bunge

São Paulo, April 2021 – To reduce the use of chemical agricultural pesticides, BP Bunge Bioenergia – one of the largest companies in the sugar-energy sector in Brazil – has invested in the research, development, and acquisition of alternatives for the biological control of pests or the sugarcane varieties which are resistant to threats to crops.

This is the case of the Cotesia Flavipes wasp, which is used in sugarcane fields for the biological control of sugarcane borer, a species of moth larva that causes great productivity losses in the sugarcane crop. In fact, Cotesia larvae, which fight the crop pest by feeding on sugarcane borer, are deposited in containers, and dispersed by drones, based on a geo-referenced planning for better location efficiency, ensuring appropriate results for biological control.

To combat leafhopper – an insect that sucks sap from sugarcane roots, injecting a toxin that reduces the plant’s productivity –, the company uses fungus Metarhizium Anisopliae.

Another major challenge is to fight Sphenophorus levis, or sugarcane billbug. To combat this pest, BP Bunge is a pioneer in the use of entomopathogenic nematode (Heterorhabditis bacteriophora) technology, with promising results.

“Whenever possible, we prioritize biological alternatives to combat pests that cause losses to sugarcane crops. The evolution of research has expanded the range of alternatives to traditional agricultural pesticides, which is good for the sector and better for the environment”, says Rogério Bremm, Agricultural Director, BP Bunge Bioenergia.

Alternatives for sugarcane giant borer

Combating sugarcane giant borer has been studied and BP Bunge, along with other partners, is at the forefront of this research. One of the lines of study uses entomopathogenic nematodes, a type of earthworm, to combat sugarcane giant borer, as they feed on borer larvae and thus interrupt their development cycle.

Another alternative that the company has been testing to control sugarcane giant borer is the use of sugarcane varieties developed by the Sugarcane Technology Center (Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira – CTC), which have been adopted in this testing phase at the Pedro Afonso unit, in the State of Tocantins.

Pre-Sprouted Seedlings – PSS

Another alternative to reduce the occurrence of pests and diseases in sugarcane fields, while reducing the use of chemical pesticides, is crop management using Pre-Sprouted Seedlings (PSS) from varieties developed specifically for each of the 11 units of the company, according to the geographic, geological, and climatic characteristics of each region.

For this purpose, BP Bunge has the PSS Production Center at its Moema unit, in Orindiúva, state of São Paulo, which produces around 3.4 million sugarcane seedlings per year.

This in-house production has numerous advantages to ensure the health of plants, which are produced in a controlled environment; the traceability and reliability of the origin of the material and quality production from tests carried out in the nursery; and the trend for faster growth because, if PSS seedling is planted in an appropriate rainfall regime, its evolution is up to 20% higher when compared to other planting methods.

On its own land, the company also promotes management and rotation with other vegetable crops, such as rattlepods, soybeans, peanuts, etc., in addition to other mechanical practices to eliminate soil pests, which contribute to combating pests and renewing the soil for replanting sugarcane.

A drone in action, distributing larvae of Cotesia Flavipes wasp to fight sugarcane borer (Credit: BP Bunge)


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