Fall armyworm pest management

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The crop destroying exotic plant pest, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), was detected in a pheromone trap located at Katherine Research Station in March 2020.

This pest has caused significant economic losses overseas. When population levels are high, the pest can cause devastating losses of crops, such as maize and sweet corn.

Since the detection of fall armyworm, the Department of Primary Industry and Resources has been working closely with other state and territory governments, industry groups and communities to monitor this pest, raise awareness and prepare industries to support the ongoing management of the pest.

The Department’s entomology team has been working with molecular scientists and plant biosecurity officers to conduct further diagnostics, including DNA work, to identify the strains of fall armyworm present in the Northern Territory (NT), field visits, and collecting larvae from infested plants to support the search for native biocontrol agents. Surveillance throughout the Territory has included both lures from the United States of America and Costa Rica and a laboratory colony has been established to test the effectiveness of artificial diets.

To determine host preferences, surveys are being undertaken, both in the laboratory and at the Coastal Plains Research Farm, to assess attractiveness of a range of hosts including sweet corn, cotton, okra and water melon.

Surveillance and diagnosis helps to further understand dispersal and migration, while field studies assist in determination of host plants and the search for natural enemies to enhance development of effective on-farm management strategies. For this reason, growers are encouraged to contact the department if they become aware of fall armyworm on their properties.

The department has also been working closely with industry groups to manage the impact of fall armyworm. During a recent NT Farmers webinar, Biosecurity matters: our farm, our future, the department provided an overview of surveillance program activities, potential impact on key plant crops, control options and areas for further research, including bio-controls, plant genetics, spread and distribution models, lure sensitivity, and efficacy of alternative traps.

Managing the impact of fall armyworm is a priority, as the Consultative Committee on Emergency Plant Pests (CCEPP) concluded in February that fall armyworm is not technically feasible to eradicate from Australia. This is due to the pest’s reproductive capacity, ability to fly long distances, wide host range, spread of known infestations, and potential for re-infestations from Australia’s northern neighbours.

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicine Authority (APVMA) has issued a number of permits for the use of certain chemicals for the control of fall armyworm, and is currently assessing, as a priority, additional applications for permits for the use of chemicals against fall armyworm – permit information is available from the APVMA website. Current permits are also listed in the chemicals factsheet PDF (186.8 KB).

Industry and agronomists are encouraged to report any unexpected symptoms in the field by phoning the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881.

A range of information to support industry and growers in identifying, managing and reporting fall armyworm is available on the NT Government website.

The detection of the invasive moth pest in Australia is a timely reminder of the critical role collaborative industry and government biosecurity preparedness has to play in managing pest outbreaks within Australia.

Fall armyworm

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