Managing a farm may seem like an idyllic endeavor but in reality, it’s a constant battle against the forces of nature. Keeping pests and diseases out of a coconut plantation requires constant vigilance and prompt action. Failing to notice the first signs of infestations and delaying action to control pests can compromise the health of the coconut trees and prevent them from bearing fruit. An especially bad pest invasion can even lead to the death of the trees.
To secure a bountiful harvest, coconut farmers and Philippine coconut product suppliers have to watch out for the first signs of pests and diseases in coconut trees. Here is a rundown of the pests commonly found in coconut plantations and the methods used to prevent or minimize the damage they cause:
- Rhinoceros Beetle. Considered as the most injurious coconut pest, adult rhinoceros beetles bore into the soft tissues of the coconut leaf bud, causing cuts or breaking the base of the leaf itself. Beetles multiply in number in coconut plantations because there are a lot of breeding sites available to them, such as coconut logs or stumps, heaps of sawdust or animal manure, as well as rice straw heaps and corn cobs. These sites must be removed to discourage breeding. Trap boxes, or a space specifically designed to attract breeding beetles, are also sometimes laced with green muscardine fungus—a biological agent—to control beetle populations.
- Coconut Leaf Beetle. Another insect that can cause serious damage, coconut leaf beetles feed on young coconut leaves and damage young and mature coconut plants alike. This stunts the growth of the tree and reduces nut production. Coconut leaf beetles often propagate during dry season. Farmers use different methods of limiting their population, like pruning infested leaves and destroying the beetles. Some attract earwhigs, a predator of the coconut leaf beetle, by planting banana and leguminous plants under coconut trees. If these are insufficient, infected young coconuts are subjected to chemical sprays, and mature coconuts are given an emergency trunk injection.
- Coconut Scale Insect. Small as they may be, coconut scale insects can cause considerable damage to coconut trees by feeding directly on the tree sap and injecting toxic enzymes during the process. This causes the tree to turn yellow, wilt, and produce a low number of nuts. Coconut scale insects settle under the leaves of both young and mature coconut plans. The insects are often picked off, the affected leaves are cut, or predators like beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps are used in plantations in order to control the number of coconut scale insects.
- Slug Caterpillar. Slug caterpillars cause damage to coconut plants during their larva stage by feeding on coconut leaves. These insects are capable of defoliating trees and may reduce yield by about 50 percent. Slug caterpillars are often controlled by using predator and parasites that prey on their larva and pupa. Mechanical controls like light traps are also used to bring down the number of these insects. In addition, some farmers plant leguminous plants around the coconuts to encourage the growth of slug caterpillar predators and parasitoids.
- Asiatic palm weevil. The larva of the Asiatic palm weevil tunnel into the tree and feed on its crown, which can eventually lead to the tree’s death. To control their numbers, adult Asiatic palm weevils are collected using food-baited pheromone traps. Trees that are severely infested and beyond saving are typically destroyed by shredding.
Often, coconut trees need 6 to 10 years before they bear their first fruit, but they can keep on producing fruits until they reach around 80 years. This puts into perspective how much damage a widespread infestation can do not only to the trees themselves, but also to the livelihood of the people who depend on coconut fruits and products.