Brazil declares emergency as caterpillars attack crops

Infestations of the helicoverpa caterpillar in Brazil’s grain belt prompted the agriculture ministry on Monday to declare a state of emergency in the leading soy state of Mato Grosso, highlighting the potential risk to large parts of the crop.

The ministry’s head of supply, Antonio Andrade, also declared an emergency in the state of Bahia, a smaller but important producer state where difficulty controlling pests caused financial losses for producers last year.

State governments will draw up guidelines for dealing with the pest that is believed to be a serious threat to crops.

Production costs in areas where the caterpillar is most prominent are going to rise for farmers as fighting the pest often involves multiple applications of insecticide and destruction of plant material that hosts the caterpillar.

Brazil, one of the world’s biggest exporters of soybeans and corn after the U.S., is nearly finished planting what is expected to be a record soy and bumper corn crop that will start harvest in early 2014.

The caterpillar can also destroy cotton crops.

— Reporting for Reuters by Reese Ewing in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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