Brazilian farmers are battling a voracious caterpillar that likely arrived from Asia, challenging the agricultural superpower’s widely touted mastery of tropical farming just as it is on the verge of becoming the world’s top soybean producer. <
The caterpillar, a helicoverpa armigera, thrives in dry heat. It was seen for the first time in the Americas on cotton farms in drought-prone western Bahia in 2012, fuelling panic for farmers who had no idea what it was.
The caterpillar was soon in soybean fields thousands of kilometers away thanks to the long-distance flying power of its moths, consuming everything from tomatoes to sorghum.
While crop losses have thus far been limited, Brazil is now on red alert over the nation’s third major pest outbreak in 30 years.
The caterpillar seems to be eating away at Brazil’s claim to have conquered the craft of growing reliable crops in a tropical region where pests and disease can spread more quickly than for other growers.
Bahia, one of Brazil’s newest farming frontiers, lost three million tons of soy.