Last Updated on Monday, 14 March, 2022 at 3:49 pm by Andre Camilleri
The Agricultural Research and Innovation Hub (AgriHub), within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Animal Rights, serves as a place where researchers, innovators, and farmers, both Maltese and foreign, work together to develop new agricultural practices. The project saw its commencement in 2020. It is part-financed by the European Union through the Rural Development Programme (2014-2020). The leader for this ongoing research is the Agriculture Directorate, in collaboration with a team from the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST) and several scientists from the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies, CIHEAM, Bari. Collaboration between local and international researchers is essential to create an environment of excellence that brings together people with new ideas and new knowledge.
The aims of this project is to draft, finalise, validate and publish the first local IPM (Integrated Pest Management) programmes for five major crops grown locally, namely tomatoes for processing, potatoes, strawberries, olives and vines. This will provide all the necessary strategies to control pest populations and safeguard these crops. For the monitoring phase, the government has sought to invest in some of the latest technological traps available on the market. The main principle of these traps is to facilitate the monitoring of pests. For this reason, these traps are equipped with the required technology and artificial intelligence. The traps, which are powered up by solar energy, catch pests through the use of pheromones and can determine the total count of pests caught everyday and assess the severity of pest populations. Other data parameters, such as weather and soil conditions, are also fed to the system which can be accessed from the office or elsewhere via a connection.
The Directorate is also in the process of developing computerised models which will allow us to predict how certain pest populations will develop during the growing season of the crop. The five pests that are being studied are Tuta absoluta (susa tat-tadam), Lobesia botrana (susa tad-dwieli), Bactrocera oleae (dubbiena taż-żebbuġ), Phthorimaea operculella (susa tal-patata) and Tetranychus urticae (red spider).
Through the generation of the prediction models, the Directorate will be in a position to guide farmers on the ideal timing to take the necessary action to control the pest populations effectively and in a more sustainable manner.
Another part of the project aims to study and determine ways and methods to improve local fodder production, such as identifying the ideal crop, including its subspecies, and possibilities of silage production.
To date, over 27 farmers and entities have already participated in the monitoring phase of this project. This year, we intend to perform additional monitoring on all the mentioned pests and engage more farmers and entities to help us obtain more data, which will fine-tune the models being developed.