Armyworm found on mainland

Feb. 24, 2020 | 5 Min read
Biosecurity Queensland have confirmed that a single armyworm moth had been detected at Bamaga at the tip of Cape York. The armyworm is known to damage more than 350 different plant species, including fruit crops.

A CSIRO researcher studying an invasive moth species, known as fall armyworm, has said Australia may struggle to eradicate it if it gets a hold on the mainland.

Biosecurity Queensland yesterday confirmed to the ABC that a single armyworm moth had been detected at Bamaga at the tip of Cape York.

The detection of the species on the Australian mainland comes less than a week after authorities revealed the pest had been found on Saibai and Erub islands in the northern Torres Strait.

The CSIRO's Dr Wee Tek Tay said if one moth had reached the mainland, it was highly probable that others had made it that far.

"It can fly 100 or 200 kilometres quite easily, especially with the right conditions and prevailing winds," he said.

No country has eradicated the pest

The fall armyworm is native to the Americas and since 2016 has spread through 65 countries across Africa and Asia.

Dr Tay said none of the 65 countries the fall armyworm had successfully invaded had attempted to eradicate it, largely because of the difficulty of doing so.

"Australia, however, has very advanced scientific research and good coordination between government and industry bodies so [successful eradication] all depends on the rate that the pest is establishing," he said.

"Profitability in the cane industry is directly linked to yield and production, so it's all about tonnes of cane," Mr Galligan said.

"Let alone the impact on the individual grower, if it was to reduce even 10 or 15 per cent of the crop in one area, the tremendous impact that might have on the local mill, and therefore other producers, is quite profound."

Battling the unknown
Biosecurity Queensland will this week commence surveillance for fall armyworm further south in Queensland on the Atherton Tablelands, and in the wet tropics, Port Douglas, Mossman and Cairns regions.

Dr Tay said exactly how authorities and the agricultural sector would respond to the armyworm's incursion into Australia remained to be seen.

Mr Galligan said Canegrowers Queensland would, through its research and development arm Sugar Research Australia and other representative groups, investigate how the industry would respond.

"This has already been declared an emergency plant pest, which means that it does go to a category where it could have devastating impacts on industries," he said.

"What is really important in this situation is that people on the ground, farmers, agronomists and particularly farm advisers, are the ones in the field who can observe the impact of the pest.

"Being proactive is what I know works, and being proactive by sparing no effort in terms of trying to observe where the pest is and trying to contain it, there'll be no regrets in that."

"We still need to explore what the management options are, whether they be chemical, transgenic crops or attractants to attract the adult moths and then kill them. These are options that we are yet to explore," he said.

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