Fall armyworm problem in west may be hard to wiggle out of

The fall armyworm pest species has been detected in outback Queensland, and it may be impossible to eradicate.

Jul 16, 2020, updated Jul 16, 2020
Fall armyworms have been detected in Longreach, sparking concern for local pastoralists. (Photo: ABC)

Fall armyworms have been detected in Longreach, sparking concern for local pastoralists. (Photo: ABC)

The fall armyworm, an exotic agricultural pest, has been detected in outback Queensland and experts say it may be impossible to eradicate.

Fall armyworm were initially detected in far north Queensland in February, but have now been found hundreds of kilometres away in the Longreach area.

The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) has confirmed fall armyworm, which feed on up to 350 plant species, were found in a pheromone trap in a sorghum crop in the area last month.

DAF principal scientist in Crop and Food Science, Richard Sequeira, said it is not yet known how the pest made it to Longreach.

“There’s only been one detection of fall armyworm and that was two males caught in a trap in early June,” Sequeira said.

“How they got there and where they’ve come from is still a bit of a mystery.

“We don’t know whether those two moths that were found in Longreach have come from the immediate area or if they’ve come from somewhere else … and we haven’t found anything since.”

The fall armyworm is known to prefer feeding on crops such as maize and sorghum, but is known to also eat buffel grass and other grass and pasture species.

Sequeira said despite not being much known about the pest at this stage, he was not concerned about the future of pastures in western Queensland.

“It’s so new it hasn’t really had time to tell us what it’s going to do,” Sequira said.

“I’m not really concerned that, in the short term anyway, fall armyworm will just explode and annihilate everything around it … so in grassland I really don’t have reason to believe at this point in time that it will be a huge problem.”

‘Here to stay’

Peak industry body AgForce Queensland is far more concerned about the arrival of fall armyworm in the west.

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AgForce policy officer Marie Vitelli said the insect is nearly impossible to contain or eradicate.

“I think we have to expect in Australia fall armyworm is here to stay,” she said.

“It won’t be eradicated, it is beyond that.

“We will see the insect persist right across northern Australia all year round, so it will be here with us for a long time.”

Vitelli said it was concerning the insect made its way so far west.

“Within one year it’s caused quite severe damage,” she said.

“It’s very concerning … this is just another invasive pest that’s come in from overseas.”

Mitelli said the industry has to develop management measures for pasture hay and fodder.

– ABC / Maddelin McCosker and Eleanor Grounds

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