The soil dwelling arthropod pests causing severe crop damage are whitegrubs, termites, cutworms, wireworms etc. Among them the whitegrub is the most important and has been recognized as the pest of National Importance. The whitegrubs are polyphagous and cause damage to almost all kharif crops. Their damage is sometimes as high as 100%. The crops worst affected are groundnut, sugarcane millets, chilies, pulses, upland paddy, potato and many vegetables. The damage has also been reported to the roots of tea, coffee, areca nut, cashewnut, rubber and forest nursery. Several species have been observed to cause serious damage throughout the country right from Himalaya to Kerala and Gujarat to North eastern regions.
Looking to the severity of the damage by this noxious soil pest to number of crops it became mandatory to evolve suitable management practices. The ICAR realized the importance of whitegrub menace in the country and formulated the AICRP on whitegrub which was implemented in 1980 with four cooperating centers representing the endemic areas of different whitegrub species.
Main objective of the project was to under take multi-location and coordinated research on survey, distribution, identification and biology of various species of whitegrubs attacking field crops, fruits and vegetables to develop simple, economical, safe and practical integrated technology for the management of whitegrubs. To fulfill these objectives, initially, the project started in AICRP mode at four coordinated centers located at Marathwada Agriculture University, Parbhani, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, SKN College of Agriculture, Jobner, Mahatma Phule Agriculture University, Kolhapur. A new center at Ranichauri under aegis of G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar was sanctioned to work on white grub complex of Hill region in March 1985. In 1987, one more center was added at CSA University of Agriculture and Technology, Kanpur. By 1999-2000 the centers at Kanpur, Parbhani and Kolhapur were phased out.
In the year, 2000, research for the management of other soil arthropod pests mainly termites, cutworms, wireworms etc were also included in the canvas of the project and the project was renamed as All India Network Project on Soil Arthropod Pests, with centers at Durgapura, Ranichauri, Palampur and Bangalore. Lateron in the year 2004, another center at Jorhat (Assam) was added to the project to conduct the research on soil arthropods in North east hill regions.
The project evolved some effective technologies for the management of whitegrubs which include mechanical and chemical control methods of adult as well as larval stage of the pest. The technologies paid good dividends to the farmers and the losses by whitegrubs at the national level has been minimized considerably. As per very conservative estimates various crops in over one million hectares are yearly infested by whitegrubs in the country. If the perfected extensional technology generated by the project is optimally translocated into production process, crop losses worth Rs. 2250 million can be avoided.
The most important research achievement of the project is the isolation, chemical characterization and identification of the aggregating pheromone of whitegrub, Holotrichia consanguinea which is the predominant species of light sandy soils of Rajasthan, Gujarat, U.P. and Bihar. This research finding is the first report in India of any scarabaeid and has proved to be a major break through in the management of whitegrub with a very little use of pesticide, because only one host tree within radius of 15 m (as the range of attraction of pheromone is 15 m) is required to be sprayed with pesticide and loaded with pheromone. This has made the whitegrub management easier, economically viable, eco-friendly and socially acceptable.
Practical utility of whitegrub management technology through pheromone was successfully demonstrated in the whitegrub endemic areas of Rajasthan for four consecutive years in more than 1000 ha of groundnut cropping system. The pheromone technique of whitegrub management has reduced the pesticide consumption by 60 per cent, which ultimately reduced the cost of protection, labour and pesticide load on the environment. The pest population and the crop damage in the campaign area was reduced by more than 80 per cent and increased the productivity of Groundnut crop by more than 4q/ha.
Due to species specific nature of the pheromone, there is an urgent need to isolate and identify the pheromone of other whitegrub species causing sever damage to the crops in hill regions, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and eastern and southern states of the country.
Apart from pheromone, many new molecules/formulations, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, fipronil, bifenthrin etc have been found promising at comparatively lower doses against various species of Whitegrubs infesting number of crops like groundnut, potato, maize, soya bean, pulses, millets, upland rice, vegetables etc. in different agro ecological regions of the country.