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Scale pest threat to Upper Assam TEs

FROM A CORRESPONDENT
Jorhat, Sept 12: A pest which was always there in the tea plant but hitherto did not pose a threat to plantations in Assam — has raised its ugly head in recent times, causing extensive damage to tea bushes in upper Assam.
“Scale insect was hitherto not a problem for the tea industry of Assam, but of late it has posed a serious threat in some tea estates in upper Assam,” a scientist at the Tocklai Tea Research station here said on Tuesday.
The worst part, the scientist said, is the fact that the attack was noticed more on quality tea clones or clones which are used for production of orthodox tea. “Clones like TV1, Teenali 17, TA 17/1/54 and P126 are more prone to scale infection,” he said.
Scale insect, a sucking pest, is a silent killer of tea bushes, if not noticed on time. As they are mostly active on branches inside the bushes, infection is not noticeable, if not checked properly. The insect pierces the plant tissues with its thread like mouth parts and sucks out the sap, leaving the branch dry. Severe and uncontrolled scale insect attack may create velvet blight situation in tea bushes.
Such has been the situation in tea gardens in upper Assam, especially in Dibrugarh, Golaghat and Tinsukia districts, that the Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI), the world’s oldest tea research station, has cautioned the tea garden managements to stay vigilant for early detection of the pest. It has recommended cultural practices like alkaline wash, bush sanitation, shade management and proper drainage in the estates.
“We are conducting various research studies on how to get rid of this pest and have already recommended a few to affected tea gardens,” the scientist said.
Tocklai has further recommended thorough drenching of the infested plants, including all branches up to the collar region, mixing agro spray oil as adjuvant with insecticides to enhance efficacy. “Recent study conducted by TTRI revealed that combination of aloe vera extract and Himalayan salt has given promising result in management of scale insect on tea,” he added.
The scientist pointed out that as the body of scale insects is covered with waxy substances, penetration of pesticide is limited. He further said that research at the institute has shown that although the scale insects are often well controlled by beneficial predators and parasites, but climate change and over-dependence on synthetic pyrethroids have reduced the predator population, which in turn has led to enhanced population of scale pests at present.