New crop-eating pest takes hold in Queensland

A dangerous new pest has Aussie crops on its menu and experts say there is very little that can be done to stop its path of destruction.  

Maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, wheat, cotton and a host of horticulture crops are all in the firing line of the fall armyworm

A University of Queensland researcher raised the alarm of the pests prescence, over a week ago, with Biosecurity Queensland confirming that a single armyworm moth had been detected in Bamaga, just north of Cape York.  

Since then, the pest has spread 1,000 kilometres south from its original detection point with larvae from the insect confirmed in a trial maize crop near Georgetown, west of Cairns this week.

Up until now, the species had only been found in the Torres Strait region on the islands of Erub and Saibai. 

Biosecurity Queensland General Manager Plant Biosecurity and Product Integrity Mike Ashton said the fall armyworm was an invasive moth pest that feeds in large numbers on more than 350 plant species.  

Photo: Biosecurity Queensland

“Fall armyworm causes major damage to economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and wheat, and also to other horticultural crops and cotton,” Mr Ashton said. 

“They are most active during late summer and early autumn months but may be active year-round in tropical areas. 

“Growers should have on-farm biosecurity measures in place to protect their crops from pests and diseases.” 

Fall armyworm larva are light coloured with a larger, darker head and become browner with white lengthwise stripes as they develop. They also develop dark spots with spines.  

Director of Biosecurity Queensland, Malcolm Letts recognised the challenge the moth pest posed to the agriculture sector.  

“Basically, it means any chances we had to keep the pest out and to eradicate it in the Torres Strait are gone,” Mr Letts said.  

“This means the pest is basically established on the mainland of Australia. 

“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.” 

Biosecurity Queensland are in the process of setting up 100 surveillance traps across Queensland to track the bug’s movements and hopefully prevent widespread movement.   

More information will soon be available for farmers and agronomists looking to protect their crop from the pest.  



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