Three Taiwan counties report discovery of crop-destroying fall armyworms

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The fall armyworm has been spotted in three counties (image from BAPHIQ).

The fall armyworm has been spotted in three counties (image from BAPHIQ).

Taipei (CNA) - In the wake of reports from Miaoli Monday, Yilan and Chiayi became the second and third counties in Taiwan to confirm the discovery of crop-destroying fall armyworms, the Council of Agriculture (COA) confirmed Wednesday.

According to Yilan's Agriculture Department, more than 20 worms discovered by a farmer on his organic corn field Monday have been confirmed as the highly destructive fall armyworm.

The corn was destroyed and buried by the county authorities the same afternoon in an effort to prevent the further spread of the harmful insect pest.

Later on Wednesday, the fall armyworm was also confirmed by the COA as having been found on a corn field in Chiayi, the crop from which was immediately destroyed and buried.

Fields within 200 meters of the corn field were sprayed with pesticides in an effort to wipe out the insect pest, a county official said.

According to the COA, two different types of fall armyworm have been identified, one that primarily attacks corn, the other rice crops.

Officials said the one that targets corn could have come from China, while the other species might have flown from China or Vietnam.

Meanwhile, seven additional cases of the insect pest were reported in Yunlin, Chiayi and Yilan counties by late Wednesday, the COA said.

The fall armyworm was first confirmed to have appeared on a farm in Miaoli County Monday -- the first such case in Taiwan, after a visitor to the farm reported it to the local government.

"It is imperative that we stem an all-out invasion by fall armyworms across the country, because they could create much more trouble than avian flu," Council of Agriculture (COA) Deputy Minister Huang Chin-cheng (黃金城) said at a news conference Monday.

The arrival of fall armyworms could reduce the yield of wheat, corn, sorghum and rice crops by 20-30 percent and impact 45 percent of the cultivation of those crops, said Feng Hai-tung (馮海東), head of the COA's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, on the same occasion.

With officials increasingly concerned about the arrival of the invasive fall armyworm in Taiwan, the COA has installed 500 pheromone traps around the country as part of an effort to eliminate the pest, he said.

If the fall armyworm arrives in large numbers, sweet corn and rice fields on Taiwan proper and sorghum and wheat fields in Kinmen are particularly vulnerable, with potential annual losses of up to NT$3.5 billion (US$111.46 million), according to the COA.

Since 2016, the crop-devouring pest has reportedly caused economic losses in America, Africa and Asia that include 18 provinces in China. (By Flor Wang and Shen Ju-feng)