The seemingly unstoppable damage caused by the ravenous fall armyworm has Coalstoun Lakes grain growers devastated over massive crop damage.
Grower Terry Staib, said his farm south west of Biggenden had lost 85 per cent of his sorghum crop.
"I had 35 hectares of sorghum planted and 30 ha just got wiped out, killed by FAW," he said.
"The sorghum was a month old, 18 inches to 2 foot high (45cm to 60cm) high and within a week of FAW each plant looked like an asparagus stick."
The 49-year-old said he has since put in a replacement crop.
"I had no choice because of the herbicide I applied to the ground which meant I had to replant," he said.
"When I first noticed the damage I thought I'd done something wrong with fertilizer or chemicals, then when I found out it was FAW, it was a weight off my shoulders."
But Mr Staib said any relief he felt was soon replaced by concern the FAW would continue its march across the region.
Neighbouring grower Cameron Rackemann, said their family business growing forage, millett and peanuts on 700ha had been decimated.
"We had one 40ha block of french millet eaten by FAW," he said.
"The crops went from knee high to ground level.
"Another 40ha block of french sorghum has been sprayed twice but it looks like it will have a 75 per cent yield reduction and I doubt if it will break even.
"This is the worst FAW infestation we have experienced."
As the Coalstoun Lakes Development Group chair, the 31-year-old said the organisation wanted to raise awareness of the crop, financial damage to local growers and their stress battling the invasive grub.
"This pest has not been caused by farmers," he said.
"In our region more than 200ha of crops have been completely destroyed within three weeks it went from knee high to ground level.
"Now it's late in the season and some of those crops won't make the yields they should have.
"It's not up to the farmers to do the government's biosecurity work for them and if we do it we should be subsidised."
Mr Rackemann said strict chemical regulations limited growers to using certain types of pesticides, which he said was becoming less and less affordable.
"At the moment there's one chemical which is $1 a millilitre which equals $1000 a litre," he said.
"You don't need much of it but you need to have this to hand for when it's required and we are concerned about resistance when this chemical gets overused."
Mr Rackemann said due FAW, "we don't consider growing corn here any more."
"Previously in this district there would have been 800ha of corn until FAW wiped it out," he said.
"FAW has made corn unviable."
Sorghum and peanut grower Jarred Dove, 32, said FAW had wiped out two corn crops in a row.
"We have not grown corn since," he said.
"Of our 450ha the 220ha of sorghum has been affected.
"Some of the very early plants have limped through and are fine but some of the recent planting have been hammered but we got and sprayed be if was wiped out."
Mr Dove said he had hear of FAW resistant genetically modified corn crops growing in the US,
Grain grower Matthew Seabrook, 21, farms 140ha and yields were in danger if FAW is not halted.
"I grow sorghum and peanuts, it's pretty devastating," he said.
"With sorghum, if you spray your crop there's no guarantee."
Former corn grower Garry Seabrook said the situation was dire.
"I tried sorghum, I really didn't want plant it but we had to stop growing corn because of FAW," he said.
"As an alternative we were growing millet as a cover crop in rotation for the peanuts.
"l put in sorghum and got a beautiful strike...within two days of the rain FAW wiped it out."
Mr Seabrook said he believed the situation would not improve unless, "we get genetically modified crops the grubs can't eat."
"My son-in-law is an agronomist and he said we were better to cut our losses and not try to save it (crops) if it's that bad."
"Thank heavens FAW is not causing issues with peanuts."
But it is unlikely grower hopes of genetically modified crops being implemented, according to Grain Research and Development Corporation Biosecurity Manager Callum Fletcher.
Despite GRDC confirming FAW are being detected at unprecedented levels in sorghum crops across Central Queensland, the Western and Darling Downs and northern NSW causing what experts predict could be the most significant impact since the pest's arrival in Australia in 2020, Mr Fletcher said Australia, "was unlikely" to use GMO solutions.
"Australia does not have GMO sorghum or maize crops and is unlikely to do so in the near future," he said.
"So growers are reliant on insecticides and biological control to manage FAW infestations in susceptible crops."
Mr Fletcher said GRDC was aware of the impact FAW was having and was committed to supporting growers through targeted research with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to help inform management practices and identify options for more effective control.
"We understand this is an extremely challenging situation for grain growers and we're working with our research partners to come up with tactics and solutions that will reduce the impact of FAW," Mr Fletcher said.
"This current research project is focused on establishing and understanding Australian economic management thresholds for FAW in maize and sorghum.
"Most of the current information available on FAW comes from countries who manage infestations primarily through the development of genetically modified crops.
DAF principal entomologist Dr Melina Miles urged growers to be alert, but not alarmed and take a considered approach to making decisions about the need for control.
Dr Miles' work is part of a GRDC and DAF research project aimed at developing FAW economic thresholds and management guidelines for sorghum and maize.
"We know that FAW can be devastating and we're seeing significant crop damage in southern and Central Queensland," Dr Miles said.
"Seeing the level of damage in crops this year is a cause for concern amongst growers, but I would really encourage them to work with their advisers to accurately assess FAW infestations instead of immediately reacting to crop damage."
Dr Miles attributed the high activity this season to an early start to the FAW activity in spring resulting in higher summer populations.
"In many regions, rain in December has meant later crops, resulting in the coincidence of high FAW activity and susceptible crops (and) it's also possible that the weather systems associated with the recent cyclones has facilitated the movement of large FAW populations into central Queensland," Dr Miles said.
"We're still in the early stages of developing robust management recommendations for this pest and research is ongoing, but what we do know is that FAW populations build up between October and March.
"Where they can, growers are adopting an early-sowing strategy to largely avoid severe damage, and this has been effective in 2021-23.
"This season we have late crops planted on the December rain.
"Because of that, more growers are seeing high FAW populations and damage in crops from emergence throughout the vegetative stages.
"Current information indicates that peak FAW numbers typically occur from mid-summer through autumn.
"However, we saw high FAW activity as early as October this season and consequently there has been more time for the population to build up to higher levels."
Dr Miles said in order to decide whether an infestation warrants control, growers should assess the number and size of FAW larvae per plant.
The only effective way to do this is to pull plants apart and unroll the whorl.
"Just looking at damage is risky as it doesn't tell you what the damage potential is of the infestation over the next week or so," she said.
"As with other caterpillar pests, like helicoverpa, the natural mortality of eggs and small larvae is high - possibly as high as 80 per cent, however, the mortality of larger larvae (4th - 6th instar) tends to be much lower, so you can assume most of the larger larvae you find will survive and cause damage.
"Over the past three seasons, once sorghum starts to come into head FAW infestations have declined. However, this year we are seeing infestations persist into grain filling. There are instances of FAW damaging grain in the heads, but not to the same extent as a similar infestation of Helicoverpa."
GRDC Northern Panel member and Emerald based agronomist Belinda Chase said the impact of FAW in Central Queensland has been heartbreaking.
"In the worst affected areas, we are seeing whole plant defoliation and have had observations of larvae then moving below ground and attacking the base of the stem," Ms Chase said.
For information about identification and registered chemical control options, growers should contact their local advisers and visit the GRDC Fall armyworm portal: https://grdc.com.au/resources-and-publications/resources/fall-armyworm and https://thebeatsheet.com.au/managing-faw-in-sorghum-is-there-a-threshold-yet/
Know more about this issue? Contact Alison Paterson on 0437 861 082.