A NORTH Queensland agronomist has agricultural enemy fall armyworm firmly in his sights as the war against the exotic pest intensifies.
Brent Wilson, Nutrien Ag Solutions, is on the frontline of the battle to contain fall armyworm after a large infestation was detected in maize crops at Home Hill.
Mr Wilson was the first to detect the incursion on the Burdekin in early March and has dug in to contain the pest.
Fall armyworm was first detected in Australia on two Torres Strait islands in January, before reaching the mainland at Bamaga in February.
Mr Wilson said there were early indications the invasive moth could be managed through regular monitoring and the selective use of insecticides.
It comes after he found 60 to 70 per cent of white corn cobs had been infected with fall armyworm in one 54 hectare paddock bordering the Burdekin River at Home Hill.
"This is the worst infestation we have seen since the pest arrived," Mr Wilson said.
"Prior to this we had found an average of 13-15 per cent of maize cobs infested with fall armyworm larvae in any one maize crop.
"In comparison, the white corn crop at Home Hill had two larvae on most cobs - one at the top of the silk and another one burrowed into the cob, behind the cob leaf and towards the base of the cob.
"We are hoping, given the crop is in the reproductive phase, that the damage won't have a significant impact on yield."
Mr Wilson said they had done an aerial spray using chlorantraniliprole (Altacor) within 24 hours of discovering the scale of the infestation and initial inspections had shown encouraging results.
"We have now found fall armyworm in chickpeas, soybeans and sorghum, but maize is definitely its preferred food source in our limited experience."
Mr Wilson said he was optimistic the damage to corn in this case was cosmetic, but he warned that, left unchecked, the potential for the new pest to cause significant yield losses was high.
"Regular monitoring is absolutely critical," he said.
"Get into the paddock. Mark out an area and check it two to three times each week."
Mr Wilson said in cases where fall armyworm larvae infestations in maize crops were below 20 per cent he had opted for regular monitoring rather than insecticide treatment.
"The overseas experience has also shown us how rapidly this pest develops insecticide resistance, so we need to use the chemistries we have in a controlled and measured way to ensure we have them when we need them."