Fall armyworm in the Burdekin region
Fall armyworm in the Burdekin region

One virus to combat another: government approves trials

While COVID is dominating headlines, a virus of entirely a different kind was first detected in Australia one year ago, and the Federal Government proposes to fight it by introducing a second virus into the country.

Fall armyworm is an invasive moth native to America which has spread through 65 countries, none of which have been able to eradicate the pest.

It can cause catastrophic damage to such crops as maize and sorghum, rice, pearl millet cotton turf and other fodder crops, despite the La Nina event driving good rainfall across the country.

The virus is reportedly difficult to treat with pesticides as the larvae bury deep into the plant. Experts in Southern Queensland warned against the “overuse” of synthetic pyrethroids.

After it was detected in Queensland around October last year, growers were urged to work with an entomologist to identify the signs that fall armyworm were active and to distinguish them from native armyworms.

In November, the Grains Research and Development Centre (GRDC) announced it would hold webinars to spread information about the armyworm to CQ farmers.

This month it welcomed the decision to import a “biological control import” to combat the spread.

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) has approved the importation of the biopesticide, Fawligen, a “naturally occurring” caterpillar virus which targets the fallworm.

That will allow them to start trials, investigating the effectiveness and any potential adverse side effects of the caterpillar virus.

Small scale trials “under local conditions and in various crops” will inform a submission to the pesticides authority to determine whether it could be approved for use in Australia.

Fawligen is produced in the United States by the Australia company AgBiTech.


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