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Australia - Fall armyworm spreads to North West Queensland

A dangerous exotic pest that can destroy up to half a farm’s crop has been found in North West Queensland.

Fall armyworm is an invasive moth that feeds on hundreds of plant species including many important agricultural crops.

The American-native has spread across the world to 65 countries since 2016 and is now in Northern Australia.

In Africa and India, it has affected the 50% loss of its maize crop, and in China, it is affecting corn production.

After first being spotted in Cape York two weeks ago it has spread to University of Queensland test crops in Georgetown – over a thousand kilometers further west.

Queensland’s Chief Biosecurity Officer said it was likely well established in Northern Australia and the find prompted a state government-led round table on Thursday with Canegrowers, Growcom, AgForce and AusVegwith

Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner said a coordinated approach with industry was needed to manage the serious threat it posed.

“Thursday’s industry roundtable was a productive starting point in the fight against fall armyworm providing a forum to update the industry on the situation, inform them of what the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries is doing in response and discuss what the next steps are,” Mr. Furner said.

“Key issues identified during the roundtable included identifying suitable control products, determining what industry needs are, monitoring the spread of the pest, and market access.”

Mr. Furner said traps had been established at Coen, Mossman, Port Douglas, Cairns, the Atherton Tableland and Innisfail and Biosecurity Queensland was establishing a task force to ensure effective and up to date communication with industry.

“In the short term, it is important that we work with industry to spread the word about the risk of this pest and also provide advice on control strategies that are available to them,” he said.

“In the medium to long term, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will identify the crops most favored by the pest, assist affected industries to gain access to appropriate chemical controls, help industry manage any pesticide resistance, and research possible biological controls.”

Katter’s Australian Party Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter called fall armyworm a potentially “cataclysmic” biosecurity threat, said it was infuriating Biosecurity Queensland was only now reacting to the pest’s arrival.

“Biosecurity Queensland’s failure to prepare for what is coming instead of reacting once it gets here is a clear symptom of the state’s weak biosecurity protections, which are a result of continued ignorance from policy-makers in Brisbane,” Mr. Katter said.

“Biosecurity in Queensland is grossly under-funded, and we are seeing constant reductions in the number of staff who are actually on the ground identifying problems before and when they arrive.

“The KAP have warned for many years about an invasive pest disaster such as this one.”

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