Giving farmers certainty to tackle a crop-eating pest

18 April 2023

The University of Queensland (UQ) is working with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) to develop guidelines to help Australian grain growers decide when and how to treat fall armyworm (FAW) to save their crops and finances.

Headshot of Dr Joe Eyre kneeling in a field
Dr Joe Eyre at the trial site. Image UQ Megan Pope

The highly invasive pest was detected in Australia three years ago and poses a major threat to broadacre crops including maize and sorghum.

Dr Joe Eyre from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) is working with DAF on the project, which has investment from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and will determine economic thresholds for the pest to give farmers certainty.

“The overseas recommendations for treating fall armyworm are vague, and we don’t know how they relate to the Australian environment,” Dr Eyre said.

“The current recommendations are to take action based on obvious damage from the caterpillars, which may not be the most economically efficient or ecologically-friendly time to protect crops.”

The research project will establish the relationship between the timing of an infestation, its density and the crop’s response.

“Fall armyworms are easy to treat when small so we need to predict what the likely yield loss is going to be if the infestation is not treated, as opposed to spending money on treatments when it is too late or when FAW are unlikely to result in yield penalty,” Dr Eyre said.

“The development of these economic thresholds will be absolutely fundamental to the management of fall armyworm in broadacre crops.”

DAF’s Dr Melina Miles said field trials in maize and sorghum at UQ’s Gatton campus were providing important data.

“We haven’t had a severe defoliating pest before and most producers haven’t seen a shredded crop, so there’s a lot to learn,” Dr Miles said.

“Australia’s grains industry is used to having economic thresholds on which to base decisions about crop management and farmers are crying out for guidance because fall armyworm is so damaging and new.”

The guidelines will be finalised by June 2024, but Dr Eyre and Dr Miles are already presenting their work at industry conferences.

Images and video are available via Dropbox.

Media contacts: Dr Joe Eyre,, +61 467 737 237; Dr Melina Miles,, +61 407 113 306; UQ QAAFI Comms, Natalie MacGregor,, +61 409 135 651. 

More information about fall armyworm is available from Biosecurity Queensland. 

The Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation is a research institute at The University of Queensland supported by the Queensland Government via the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.