The next pest that awaits us

The next pest that awaits us

Agribusiness
An adult fall armyworm moth. Picture: Biosecurity Queensland.

An adult fall armyworm moth. Picture: Biosecurity Queensland.

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We need to consider what might be the next pest awaiting us.

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It's perhaps a surprise to some that the fight against the fall armyworm is lost so soon after it had begun.

This week Agriculture Minister Mark Furner signalled a second likely detection on the Queensland mainland in the north west Gulf, making the infestation widespread and therefore not able to be eradicated.

It was only two weeks ago we heard of the first detections in the Torres Strait, followed shortly thereafter by a positive report from Bamaga at the tip of the Cape.

The fall armyworm has won the fight here in Australia so quickly by virtue of its reputation, hard won around the world where all human effort to remove it has been in vain.

Its capacity to spread quickly by flight after caterpillar turns to moth is only matched by its voracious appetite. With a dense infestation of the caterpillar, entire crops can be destroyed overnight.

Even while experts in government and industry are turning their minds to how we best manage in a new world that includes the fall armyworm, it will also pay to take some time to consider what might be the next pest awaiting us.

The list of National Priority Plant Pests, ratified only late last year, ranked the fall armyworm at 31 out of 42 exotic pests yet to be found in Australia. So it's a terrible pest, but by no means the worst.

Could we have predicted the arrival of fall armyworm from Papua New Guinea? If so, what could we have done to be better prepared?

Perhaps more importantly then, what other exotic pests on the national list of priority are known to be on their way to Australia? In particular, those likely to leap frog through the Torres Strait? And what can we do to better prepare for their arrival?

Nobody likes admitting defeat. But as the saying goes, you learn the most when you lose. Now is not too soon to be asking these questions of our biosecurity system.

The story The next pest that awaits us first appeared on North Queensland Register.

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