Fall armyworm detected in Australia

Monday, 17 February 2020

The Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is an exotic pest that has been detected on the northern Torres Strait Islands of Saibai and Erub in January 2020, and more recently on the tip of Cape York (Bamaga) in February. This is the first incidence of Fall armyworm being detected in Australia.

This pest poses a significant risk to Australia’s nursery industry, and production nurseries are urged to implement rigorous plant protection protocols to reduce the risk of incursion.

Known to eat and destroy more than 350 plant species when caterpillar population levels are high, the destruction of crops can almost occur overnight.

Detection of this pest in Australia has been in the form of Adult fall armyworms (moths), which were caught in surveillance traps managed by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment’s Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (NAQS).

Although detection sites were a significant distance from the nearest commercial production areas in Lakeland

Downs and Atherton Tableland, growers are urged to remain on alert.

About the Fall armyworm

The Fall armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Since 2016 it has rapidly spread across Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and Southeast Asia doing significant damage and causing substantial economic loss overseas.

Australia’s climatic and host conditions are extremely favourable to the establishment and spread of this pest.

Most active during late summer and early autumn, it is most likely to be found in warm, moist regions with little forest cover, or carried on fresh fruit or vegetables. Evidence of this pest could include egg masses, plant leaf damage or fruit or vegetable damage.

The Response

Greenlife Industry Australia (GIA) is working alongside the Queensland Government of Agriculture & Fisheries, the Australian Government, state and territory governments, industry groups and communities to assess the distribution, host range and threat of the pest and develop an effective response strategy.

On Thursday, 6 February, the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) met to discuss the detection within Australia. Following this meeting, the CCEPP concluded that Fall armyworm is an Emergency Plant Pest and that more information is required to determine if it’s technically feasible to eradicate this pest.

Keep an eye out for future updates on the response strategy, which aims to determine the current distribution of Fall armyworm in Queensland and implement regulatory measures to contain this pest.

For more information on the Fall armyworm, please go to the Pest ID Tool via https://www.pestid.com.au/pest-insect/fall-armyworm, or visit the Queensland Government website.

What you can do to lower incursion risk

Production nurseries are urged to be vigilant and implement plant protection measures that reduce the chance of a pest or disease incursion in their cropping systems.

This includes:

  • Using pest-free propagation material including seeds and budwood, sourced from a reputable supplier/scheme such as NIASA BMP or BioSecure HACCP certified businesses.
  • Using pest-free vegetative propagation material sourced from a known and reputable supplier where motherstock is inspected and found free of pest and disease symptoms.
  • Implement industry-based biosecurity programs across the production system that support procedures for sourcing, inspecting, treating and managing plant material i.e. BioSecure HACCP.
  • Put up farm biosecurity signs on gates and fences to manage visitors and vegetative material coming onto your property.
  • Avoid equipment sharing, and keep equipment and vehicles clean and free of plant matter.
  • Wear clean clothing before visiting other growers’ properties.
  • Ensure staff are aware of on-farm hygiene practices, know what to look for and how to report unusual pests and diseases.

If you’re concerned that your plants may be infected, please contact the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881 right away – early detection is vital for managing and eradicating pests and disease.

For further information contact National Biosecurity Manager John McDonald via email at john.mcdonald@greenlifeindustry.com.au or call 07 3277 7900.

Note that the Pest ID tool is now available with free access to industry. An initiative of the Nursery Levy funded National Nursery Industry Biosecurity Program (NY15004) and ‘Building the resilience and on-farm biosecurity capacity of the Australian production nursery’ Project (NY15002).