A co-ordinated effort from industry and farmers will be needed to minimise the impact of fall armyworm in New Zealand.
Nations that are succeeding in beating back this devastating pest use two key strategies.
Firstly, they have designated bodies devoted to examining and testing options and disseminating key information to farmers.
The other strategy is the widespread involvement of crop growers, the Foundation for Arable Research’s Ashley Mills says.
Mills has been given the job of co-ordinating the fightback.
One tool that is in development to fight fall armyworm (FAW) is predictive technology that would alert farmers of FAW’s arrival.
Mills says the modelling needed to alert farmers is still being built.
The crucial thing required is data on the ground – the predictive system runs on information consistently supplied by farmers.
“In countries that are winning the war, farmers have bought into the ‘We’re all on the same team’ idea.
“Their growers have purchased lures and strategically placed them around their crops to trap moths – that’s Part 1. Part 2 of their success is that these farmers regularly crop-scout and check their traps.
“When they discover larvae and moths, they report their data to a centralised body that runs the numbers through predictive modelling software. It’s like weather forecasting. If enough of our farmers consistently do this, the modelling software we possess can create predictive maps of where the pests are heading and the timeframes in which they’re likely to land.
“Monitoring isn’t the entire answer, but it’s absolutely crucial if we’re going to fight back.”
There also needs to be a united approach from farmers, Mills says.
“We’re reaching out to farmers because having a network of pheromone traps down the length of the country allows us to take captured moths as data points. The more data points we have, the more accurate our prediction model will become, which will help all New Zealand growers.”
If FAW is found on a crop, the options for farmers are not straightforward.
There are insecticides that have been effective against FAW around the world, but certain strains of the pest have developed resistance.
Mills says this is another reason for widespread trapping and data collection.
“When a farmer traps a moth and submits the data, we’ll seek to identify the species and match it to its origins. If we can do that, we’ll be able to see what resistances it has acquired along its spread, and that will help us avoid using impotent products.”
Other defences being developed are biologicals, a range of species-specific viruses that can infect FAW larvae and be passed on generationally.
Mills is also hopeful biologicals could play a vital role in keeping FAW under control.
“The thing to grasp is that there is no silver bullet, no single weapon that will protect New Zealand farmers from fall armyworm. My job is to co-ordinate an army of good people and show them a range of resources to fight the good fight.”
This article first appeared in the December edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.