Surveillance efforts to prevent the spread of fall armyworm – a crop destroying plant pest – into Central Australia will be extended south from the Top End. Picture: NT DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRY AND RESOURCES
Surveillance efforts to prevent the spread of fall armyworm – a crop destroying plant pest – into Central Australia will be extended south from the Top End. Picture: NT DEPARTMENT OF PRIMARY INDUSTRY AND RESOURCES

Aggressive pest has potential to ‘devastate’ NQ crops

AN AGGRESSIVE pest with the potential to "devastate the Bowen agriculture industry" has been recently located in Bowen.

The fall armyworm is an invasive moth native to America that feeds on hundreds of plant species.

Since 2016, the moth has spread through 65 countries across Africa and Asia, with none able to effectively eradicate the pest.

It was first detected in Australia on two Torres Strait Islands in January and has quickly made its way south to be found two weeks ago in Bowen.

Bowen Gumlu Growers Association (BGGA) industry development officer, Eilis Walker, said the exotic pest had the potential to "devastate" the agricultural industry in Bowen.

She said the biggest issue with the pest was its inability to be eradicated with chemical use.

Fall armyworm has been spotted in Northern Queensland
Fall armyworm has been spotted in Northern Queensland

 

"It's very aggressive in terms of destroying crops, both horticultural and pastoral," she said.

"I wouldn't say it's more aggressive than some other pests we have seen, but the issue is its resistance - that's where the most impact comes from.

"There's not a lot we can do at the moment except be aware, not alarmed, and keep closely monitoring crops."

Ms Walker said the fall armyworm could travel up to 500km in a single day and in the right conditions had been known to travel as far as 1500km.

She said the pest particularly liked to eat sweet fruit and vegetables such as corn, capsicum and tomatoes - all agricultural products grown in Bowen.

"Growers are increasingly aware and worried about the pest - but it's been a little pushed to the side with COVID-19," Ms Walker said.

"There's some minor-use chemical approvals being pushed forward, but these can only be used a limited amount of times.

Fall armyworm male. Picture: Lyle J Buss
Fall armyworm male. Picture: Lyle J Buss

"Now more than ever it's important for proper biosecurity to be enforced, especially those that are looking for seasonal work. We're reaffirming to people to not go on a farm without approval."

A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) said the spread of fall armyworm was not unexpected as it was "highly mobile" and can fly long distances with suitable weather conditions.

"The DAF is working with industry to find ways to address the threat posed by the fall armyworm moth and its larvae to Queensland's agriculture industry," the spokesman said.

BGGA president Carl Walker called the pest "a little clever bug" but stressed the importance of proper chemical use even in the face of adversity.

"We only have so much chemistry, so if we overuse it and they get immunity to it, well then we have nothing to fight the bugs with," he said.

"Before COVID-19 there was a plan to meet the chemical sellers and work on a way of telling everyone that message because it's so important.

"In the meantime, it's moving so fast that all we can do is monitor our crops more than ever for irregularities."

The DAF spokesman said producers who thought they may have come across fall armyworm were strongly encouraged to photograph and report suspect sightings by phoning 13 25 23, or directly relaying the details to their local biosecurity officer or extension officer.


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