The Fall armyworm was first detected in surveillance traps on the Torres Strait islands of Saibai and Erub in January 2020, before quickly reaching the mainland. Surveillance for the pest ramped up after the highly migratory moth was found to be rapidly spreading throughout South East Asia last year.
By February, the armyworms were detected at Bamaga and it quickly established itself in North Queensland, Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia. During the year, they spread south throughout Queensland and into NSW. The fall armyworm moth can fly up to 500 km in 48 hours, making containing it near impossible.
Monitoring and tracking its spread was the highest priority in the early stages with Biosecurity Queensland chief biosecurity officer Malcolm Letts urging growers to be alert. As the pest continued its march south, reducing the destruction it causes to crops has been a key focus for teams of researchers, agronomists and scientists.
The Australian government has been supporting efforts to minimise its impacts, providing $600,000 to Plant Health Australia to research fall armyworm genetics, pesticide resistance, commercial and native hosts, and modelling seasonal impacts on populations.