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GRDC praises move to import fall armyworm virus

A decision to allow the importation of a biological control agent into Australia as part of research into fall armyworm (FAW) control options has been welcomed by GRDC.
Photo: Brent Wilson

A decision to import a biological control agent into Australia as part of research into fall armyworm (FAW) control options has been welcomed by GRDC.

The Federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) has approved the importation of the biopesticide, Fawligen®, a naturally occurring caterpillar virus which specifically targets FAW.

This decision will allow the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to start trial work investigating the effectiveness of the virus and assessing any potential adverse impacts.

GRDC Manager Chemical Regulation Gordon Cumming welcomes the move and says the importation of Fawligen® for research purposes is a significant step in assessing a potential biological control tool and its suitability for Australian conditions.

“FAW was first detected in Queensland in January 2020 and has now spread to the Northern Territory, Western Australia and New South Wales causing significant concern to the grain and horticulture sectors,” Mr Cumming says.

“Given the rapid spread of FAW and the impact the pest is having, the GRDC is supportive of research investigating all management options.”

Fawligen® is produced in the United States by the Australian company AgBiTech.

DAF researchers will now work with closely with AgBiTech in small scale trials to assess the effectiveness of Fawligen® on Australian FAW populations, under local conditions and in various crops.

Mr Cumming says this research will assist in the development of data to inform a submission to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Authority (APVMA) which will determine whether Fawligen® can be approved for use in Australian agriculture.

“While the GRDC support the decision to import Fawligen® for research purposes we are aware this is just the first of many steps to gain regulatory approval for growers to use the product on-farm,” he says.

“The reality is registration of Fawligen® in Australia could take several years.

“Queensland growers in particular are very familiar with the use of viruses as biological controls - with Vivus successfully used to target helicoverpa - so they are keen to see natural control options investigated.

“In the meantime, GRDC continues to invest in collaborative research to improve understanding of FAW in Australia and to help guide grower and agronomist decision making in the paddock.”

Information about FAW and its management in grain crops has been consolidated into a reference document for use by Australian grain growers, agronomists and other industry stakeholders. The Fall Armyworm Continuity Plan captures the global experience and uses that to inform and anticipate the challenges Australian agriculture could face and how to best manage them.

More information about FAW – including current regulatory and permit options - is available on the GRDC FAW portal. Growers are encouraged to monitor crops to identify signs of infestation early.

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