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What happens when an exotic pest arrives in Australia?

Australia's biosecurity system has responded to the arrival of fall armyworm in northern Australia in 2020.
Photo: Chazz Hesselein,

An important part of Australia’s biosecurity system is to prepare for the arrival of exotic pests. Preparations are based on an understanding of pest biology, host range, global spread and management strategies used in other parts of the world.

This knowledge allows our biosecurity and agriculture departments to put in place processes that assist with the detection and first steps towards management of the pest, should it reach Australia.

When a new pest or disease is first detected – particularly if that occurs in an agricultural production area – a decision needs to be made whether it is feasible to eradicate it or whether we need to learn how to manage it.

This decision is made at a national level with input from the states and territories, and the industries, likely to be affected by the pest, in a process that is set out in the Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed (EPPRD).

Funding the response

The EPPRD is a legal agreement between the Australian Government, state and territory governments, Plant Health Australia and peak industry bodies that outlines the actions to be taken and the cost-sharing arrangements for funding a response, should that be required.

When the decision is made that it is not feasible to eradicate a new pest, the pest is no longer considered to be ‘exotic’. It then becomes the responsibility of the state and territory governments and affected industries to identify and support the research, development and extension (RD&E) that may be required to assist with the ongoing management of that pest.

A recent example of an exotic pest that was determined unfeasible to be eradicated was fall armyworm (FAW), which arrived in northern Australia in early 2020.

Our biosecurity system at the federal, state and territory levels was prepared for this type of scenario, which allowed immediate actions to be taken, some of which included:

  • issuing of emergency permits for FAW control;
  • publication of guides for identification of FAW;
  • holding webinars and training events to update industry;
  • establishing networks of pheromone traps to detect the FAW adult moth as it spread into growing regions and sharing that information; and
  • ensuring diagnostic services were available to identify FAW larvae and moths.

GRDC investments contributed to some of these actions, including facilitating the majority of grains emergency permits, supporting extension activities and commencing baseline resistance assessments. In several instances GRDC investment was leveraged through the cross-industry Plant Biosecurity Research Initiative (PBRI).

Support for growers, advisers

Each action is designed to provide the initial support that growers and advisers need to identify the pest and options available to control it, should they be required.

While these steps were being taken, GRDC also considered what RD&E investments would be appropriate to develop management options for FAW for the Australian grains industry.

An important first step taken by GRDC was to invest in the development of a ‘continuity plan’ for FAW, which collated reliable information about the pest’s biology, behaviour and management in crops and environments overseas, to guide actions until local research could be completed.

The steps undertaken following the arrival of FAW in Australia demonstrated that our system is working well.

The National Fall Armyworm Continuity Plan, a GRDC investment initiative, is now available.

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