Fall armyworm caterpillar. Picture: James Castner
Fall armyworm caterpillar. Picture: James Castner

New bioweapon in the fight against fall armyworm

There is a new bioweapon in the arsenal to fight against a small pest with a "voracious" appetite for Queensland's agricultural crops.

Native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, fall armyworm arrived on Australian shores at the beginning of 2020 and has since been detected in Emerald, Clermont, Mackay and Dysart.

It eats more than 350 plant species including sugarcane, vegetables, sorghum, pastures and wheat.

The Agricultural and Fisheries Department has been given the green light to import Fawligen, a biopesticide which infects the caterpillar and its larvae with a virus.


Agricultural Industry Development Minister Mark Furner said importing Fawligen for research allowed the government to begin testing how it performed under local conditions.

"DAF has worked closely with industry to address the threat posed by this voracious invasive pest," Mr Furner said.

"DAF first applied in March 2020 to bring Fawligen, which is produced in the US by Australian company AgBiTech, into Australia."

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He said the natural biological control agent was a "game changer" that could reduce the risks of the fall armyworm developing resistance to conventionally-used insecticides.

"Another significant advantage of this biopesticide is that it only kills the FAW and is non-toxic to beneficial organisms including honeybees and beneficial natural enemies such as spiders, wasps and ladybeetles," Mr Turner said.

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AgBiTech Australia general manager Philip Armytage said the US production facility was set up in 2015 in response to the global spread of the pest.

"Globally, Fawligen is AgBiTech's biggest product by volume, and we are excited to be able to bring our technology back home to Australia for our farmers.

"We will accelerate the project, working closely with DAF and use all our international experience to support the commencement of the registration work as soon as possible."

Mr Furner said growers in the meantime should watch out for the fall armyworm and use the APVMA's permit portal to check for up-to-date insecticide information and permits.

The latest advice is available at business.qld.gov.au/fallarmyworm.