WARNING: QLD farmers are being warned about the rapid movement of a threatening new pest – the Fall Armyworm (FAW). Picture: DAVID MARTINELLI
WARNING: QLD farmers are being warned about the rapid movement of a threatening new pest – the Fall Armyworm (FAW). Picture: DAVID MARTINELLI

WARNING: Farmers crops targeted by new invasive pest

A NEW invasive pest is spreading rapidly throughout Queensland, with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries warning farmers to be on high alert for the Fall Armyworm (FAW).

The destructive caterpillar, which was first detected in Georgetown in North Queensland, has caused devastation in the Atherton Tablelands region through to Bowen.

PEST: Fall armyworm. PIC: Supplied (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)
PEST: Fall armyworm. PIC: Supplied (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries)

The pest was most recently discovered in Northern New South Wales, and most concerningly the Lockyer Valley, Chinchilla, and St George.

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries principal entomologist Dr Melina Miles said, early detection and communication within the agriculture community were essential to help battle this latest challenge for growers.

“The risk in Northern NSW and Central Queensland, in places like Emerald and the Darling Downs is real and growers there need to be on high alert,” Dr Miles said.

“Given FAW was recently detected in the several parts of Southern Queensland, growers should be watching both the level of activity in local traps and closely monitoring the vegetative state of their crops.

“They can work with their entomologist to identify the signs that FAW are active and to distinguish them from native armyworms.

“For sorghum growers it is important that they inspect the crops during that vegetative stage and not just from head emergence, particularly if traps are indicating that FAW are active either North or West of you.

DEVELOPED: Fall armyworm male. Pic: Lyle J Buss
DEVELOPED: Fall armyworm male. Pic: Lyle J Buss

The pest is native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, and are attracted to maize, sweet corn, popcorn, and pose a threat throughout the growing cycle.

“We’ve not previously seen a pest that can reduce the amount of functioning leaf area to the point where it warrants control in the vegetative stage, and that is what FAW is doing – particularly in maize and sweet corn,” said Dr Miles.

“In the Burdekin, growers tell you that every crop of maize or sorghum they have has been affected to some extent.

One of Australia’s largest seed providers, Pacific Seeds, have been working with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to develop solutions to combat the FAW, including providing seeds for seed treatment trials, working on an integrated pest management strategy, and simulating damage at varying crop stages to assist in refining the timing of control measures.

Pacific Seeds summer grains agronomist Trevor Philp said, farmers need to be aware of the risks.

“The spread of this pest could have unknown consequences for what promises to be a strong growing season, with a La Niña event driving potentially good rainfall across Australia,” Mr Philp said.

“That’s why we are working closely with the department to help give growers the tools to manage this invasive pest.

“Currently we’re simulating FAW damage on corn to see when growers should be intervening to avoid detrimental damage.

“This is because FAW damage can look worse than it is, and we don’t want growers intervening with pesticides until it’s necessary to do so,” said Mr Philp.

INVASIVE: Damage done by the FAW. Pic: NT DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRY AND RESOURCES
INVASIVE: Damage done by the FAW. Pic: NT DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRY AND RESOURCES

Following the recent discovery of FAW in the Lockyer Valley, Chinchilla and St George, Dr Melina Miles said that growers need to be monitoring their crops very closely as the pest has potential to impact any crop where food choice is limited.

“There is still a lot we need to learn about the effects of this pest on Australian crops, but as the summer cropping season continues, farmers across Queensland and northern New South Wales should remain on high alert and vigilant while work continues to assess the threat and find appropriate solutions,” Dr Miles said.


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