New fall armyworm podcast series to increase education around the pest threatening WA

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Fall armyworm larva pictured on corn in northern Western Australia
Camera IconFall armyworm larva pictured on corn in northern Western Australia Credit: Supplied

Australia’s top scientists and biosecurity experts are joining forces with growers to fight one of the country’s “most prolific” pests capable of “devouring” a wide range of crops.

A podcast, rapid diagnostic tools and extension programs are among the projects under way.

Fall armyworm has been dubbed one of the “biggest biosecurity concerns” for the State’s $6 billion grain industry, as the moth from the American tropics charges south since its first WA detection in Kununurra last year.

It has since been detected in Broome, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Gingin, threatening to reduce yields, stunt growth and kill plants as the larvae feed on cereal and cotton crops.

It also poses a major threat to the State’s $900 million horticultural industry, with an appetite for more than 350 plant species including corn, sweet potatoes and melons.

To stop it in its tracks, the nation’s leading horticulture research and development corporation is delivering a suite of targeted defence measures against the pest, which has been deemed “not technically feasible to eradicate” in Australia.

Identifying natural predators, delivering rapid diagnostic tools and increasing education are among the projects being funded by Hort Innovation.

A separate study by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and the NSW Department of Primary Industries — supported by the Ord River District Co-operative — found worms collected from maize crops in the Ord River Irrigation Area and Broome had not developed further pesticide resistance.

HI general manager of research and development Dr Alison Anderson said some sweetcorn growers had lost entire crops to the pest.

“Fall armyworm moves fast,” she said. “It’s good at developing resistance to insecticides, and it’s ravenous — it completely devours crops.

“The pest was only recently detected in Australia early last year and immediately affected grain crops.

“We’re working with growers and the nation’s leading researchers to give the horticulture industry the tools it needs to help manage this prolific pest.”

The research projects are being headed by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Agriculture Victoria and the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, with results already visible.

“We’ve seen that fall armyworm has spread beyond sweetcorn in northern Australia and into other horticultural crops, such as capsicum, leaving between 10 to 30 per cent loss of saleable product for some growers there,” Dr Anderson said.

She said collaboration with growers was “critical” to the research projects being undertaken.

“They have provided access to their properties and have shared information on growing practices and many photos with the researchers, and this really helps us understand fall armyworm more,” Dr Anderson said.

A podcast series, the development of a rapid field-based test, work to identify potential fall armyworm predators and risks to Australian horticulture and the development of extension programs to effectively fight th pest are among the initiatives.

“Hort Innovation’s investment has made possible a national research and development effort into fall armyworm, including horticultural crop risk analysis and crop surveys to identify parasitoids and predators,” Department of Agriculture and Fisheries senior entomologist Siva Subramaniam said.

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