Potential Impacts on Farmers Hits Australian Soil: The Fall Armyworm

Potential Impacts on Farmers Hits Australian Soil: The Fall Armyworm

Hello again and welcome back. There has been some recent news in the media about the sudden outbreak of the fall armyworm which is native to America.

Biosecurity Queensland confirmed earlier last week that a single armyworm moth has been 
detected up in Cape York. This discovery comes only a few days after authorities had confirmed the pest was present on the northern islands in the Torres Strait. ABC Rural, reported on Tuesday, February 25, that the fall armyworm has now been detected 300km west of Cairns, indicating as the Director of Biosecurity Queensland Malcom Letts stated the pest is ‘basically established on

the mainland of Australia’. The pest is very similar to the Leucania convecta armyworm species that is found in all states in Australia, but if this fall armyworm is more worrying.
The pest is a breed of moth that is found mainly found in grass pastures, cereal and rice crops. It lives up to its name as a pest as it can cause a lot of damage to crops. Once it gets in, it will latch onto the roots and eat away at the crop, eventually killing it.

When fully grown the moth will be roughly 30-40mm in length from wing to wing. It is brown, grey and white in colour and the males will have more distinct patterns on their forewings. Some females may also be carrying larvae which can be identified by a larger than normal head that will be dark in colour.

This situation gets a lot more serious as they can fly, like really fly. Experts estimate their migration rate can be up to almost 500 kilometres per generation, but a normal flight distance is anywhere between 100-200 kilometres. It is also believed that they can also spread through human movement after the species was detected in Africa following the arrival of a passenger flight.

The fall armyworm is known to damage more than 350 plant species which in turn can see radical crop destruction. Once they are present in a crop there isn’t much you can do to stop it so prevention and caution are key.

Experts say some targeted crops include cotton, sweet corn, rice, peanuts and fruits. The list of food sources for larvae however is much larger and they will eat much more of the plant. According to experts at the Department of Primary Industries this species can wipe out some crops as quickly as overnight. When larvae first begin to hatch they require very little food, but as they continue to age they require more up to 50 times more than what they needed at the beginning of the lifecycle. 

Australia is in a good position due to our advanced scientific research and biosecurity measures, but now that the pest has reached our boarders, producers need to be on the lookout themselves.

I know what you’re thinking though, ‘how do we protect our crops or get rid of the pest?’ Well the short answer is that the authorities are yet to work that out. The CSIRO’s Dr Wee Tek Tay told ABC News they will be keeping an eye on it for now and manage the situation as it develops.

“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.” – Dr Tay, CSIRO.

I really don’t want this news to send anyone into a panic, but it is something Australian farmers need to be aware of.

The fall armyworm adult moth with its brown fury wings spread.

Mr Letts says “”Given the nature of the pest and the speed that it travels, we anticipate that it’ll move fairly quickly to other parts of Queensland and maybe other parts of Australia.”

If you do see any signs of the fall armyworm authorities advise you report it straight away by calling the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 or email biosecurity@dpi.nsw.gov.au with all the details.

Steve, The Silologist

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