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The impact of leafhoppers on maize crops in Argentina

Leafhoppers, tiny insects that have caused a significant impact on maize crops in Argentina, have raised concerns among farmers in certain provinces of the country. Particularly in Córdoba, one of the leading maize exporters globally.

But how does this pest truly affect maize crops in the country? In this article, we'll delve into the details of this pest and provide a brief overview of the damage inflicted on the hardest-hit areas of Argentina.


Leafhoppers: Pest and Disease 

The leafhopper is a small, sap-sucking insect with a high reproductive capacity that acts as a vector for a bacterium known as spiroplasma. This bacterium causes a disease known as "maize bushy stunt." Symptoms are highly visible in infected plants, including reduced internodes, foliar symptoms, multi-ears, and in severe cases, stunted or dead plants.


Impact of Leafhoppers on Maize Harvest 

The presence of this pest in maize plants implies enduring several significant impacts. Below, we detail the most affected areas.


Economy 


The economic impact of this pest should not be underestimated. According to data from the Córdoba Grain Exchange, an estimated 6 million tons of maize will not be harvested in the province of Córdoba, representing an economic loss of approximately $1,130 million. This figure is alarming and reflects the serious harm that leafhoppers can cause to maize crops.


It's worth mentioning that Córdoba is Argentina's leading maize-producing province. Additionally, it's one of the top ten maize producers globally.


Yield and Harvest 


In early April 2024, an average yield of 73.5 quintals per hectare for maize in Córdoba was estimated. Although this figure surpasses by over 50% the yield of the previous campaign affected by drought, the total expected production was significantly reduced due to the pest. The maize harvest, initially expected to reach 17 million tons, was cut by 6 million tons.


Severity Levels 


The Córdoba Grain Exchange used an assessment scale of damage caused by spiroplasma, developed by the Obispo Colombres Agroindustrial Experimental Station in Tucumán. This scale classifies damage levels from mild foliar symptoms to stunted or dead plants. In Córdoba, the affected area was distributed across various severity levels, with a notable increase in the regular and poor states of the crop.


In addition to economic losses, the pest also affects agricultural production and food security. The reduction in maize crop yields can have a significant impact on the availability of this important food for both domestic consumption and export.


Most Affected Regions 

The north-central region of Córdoba, where a higher proportion of late maize is planted, has been particularly affected. In this region, losses in value are estimated at $568 million, with a 50% reduction in volumes produced compared to March estimates.


Current Situation and Short-Term Future 

The Córdoba Grain Exchange warned about the presence of seemingly healthy plants, but with empty or half-formed ears, a symptom not considered in previous assessments. Additionally, problems with plant lodging were reported, casting doubt on the evolution of harvestable area in the coming months. The slow pace of late maize harvesting could extend until September, further complicating the situation.


Government Measures Given this scenario, authorities have taken measures to control the pest and mitigate its impact. The National Service of Agri-Food Health and Quality (Senasa) has expedited the authorization times for insecticides to control leafhoppers, providing farmers with additional tools to combat the pest.


Leafhoppers represent a serious threat to maize crops in Argentina, with significant economic and agricultural consequences. It is essential to continue implementing pest control and integrated pest management measures to protect crops and ensure food security in the country.



Maize Crop infected by leafhoppers

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