The Taitung County Government has allowed growers of organic rice to burn straw to drive out black bug infestation in Guanshan Township (關山).
The traditional method of fighting insects with fire and smoke, which has been banned over air pollution concerns, was conditionally revived to protect the second crop of rice from the bugs, the county government wrote in a news release on Saturday.
Starting on Monday, organic farmers, who cannot use pesticides, were permitted to burn straw in their fields between 8am and 5pm every day until the end of the month, it said.
An estimated 220 million bugs have eaten 70 percent of the affected area’s crops this year, Taitung Agriculture Department Director Hsu Chia-hao (許家豪) said.
The bugs — which have infested 110 hectares of rice paddies supplying the Zi-yuan Rice Husking Factory — were first observed in the second harvest last year, he said.
Synthetic pesticides would have been highly effective under normal circumstances, but the affected farmers cannot utilize them due to organic certification rules, Hsu said, adding that organic cures did not show promising results during testing.
Bonfires were authorized following reports that the bug population is increasing 20-fold per season, he said.
Burning straw in the fields would disrupt the reproductive cycle of the insects and reduce their population, he said.
However, the department is working on a better long-term solution, Hsu added.
Local farmers must obtain a permit before burning straw, he said, adding that only those who have an organic farming certification for more than 50 hectares would be eligible.
The permits would also need to be signed by the township office and the local farmers’ association, he said.
Anyone who burns straw without a permit, outside the assigned time or within 50m of Provincial Highway No. 9, would be prosecuted, Hsu said.
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