In our February e-news we advised that the exotic insect pest, Fall armyworm, had been detected for the first time in Australian waters. Since then, the pest has reached mainland Australia and is on the move.

The Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests has determined that it is not technically feasible to eradicate fall armyworm from Australia. It has never been eradicated in the 65 countries in which it has inhabited and is well established in our nearest neighbours and could be continually reintroduced.

This voracious feeder reproduces fast, is highly mobile and can fly long distances; especially with the aid of weather patterns and jet streams. It is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, most likely found in warm, moist regions with little forest cover. Since 2016, fall armyworm has spread to Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and South East Asia. Larvae feed on more than 350 types of plants, grasses and other crops, including cotton, maize, sugarcane, sorghum, wheat, and many fruit and vegetables including melon, sweetcorn and sweet potato.

In January 2020, fall armyworm was first detected on two Torres Strait islands, Erub and Saibai, followed by a mainland detection in February at Bamaga, about 40km from the northern tip of Cape York in north Queensland. It was then detected and confirmed an additional nine times in Queensland – at Croyden in the Gulf country, in South Johnstone, Tolga, Lakeland and the Burdekin region south of Townsville, Bowen in the Whitsunday Region and just recently in Bundaberg.

The Australian Government, state and territory governments, industry groups and communities are working to assess the distribution, host range and threat of the pest and to plan and prepare industries for ongoing management of the pest. A series of grower forums and management guides are currently being developed to deliver the latest knowledge on the monitoring for and management of fall armyworm across our northern farming systems.

Growers are implored to establish on-farm biosecurity measures to protect their crops from pests and diseases and especially to focus on inspecting their crops regularly to look for unusual moths or caterpillars, and call the plant pest hotline 1800 084 881 to report them.