China's Shandong province says fall armyworm a 'major threat' to autumn crop output

BEIJING (Reuters) - Agriculture officials in northern China’s Shandong province warned on Tuesday that an infestation of the fall armyworm pest will spread further in the key corn-producing area, posing a “major threat” to autumn crop output in the region.

The insect has already caused damage in some areas in Shandong, China’s third-largest corn producer after Heilongjiang and Jilin in the northeast, and the situation has developed rapidly, the Shandong Agriculture and Rural Affairs Bureau said in a statement.

Fall armyworm feasts in large numbers on the leaves and stems of many plant species, and can infest and damage hundreds of hectares of corn overnight.

The destructive pest has spread to 21 provinces and regions in China since it was first detected in the southwestern province of Yunnan in January, infesting 792,000 hectares of land growing corn in the first half of the year, according to a report from a government-backed agriculture institute last week.

China had about 130 million hectares of arable land as of the end of 2017 and grows corn on about 42 million hectares.

The rainy season - which in northern China runs from July to September - will facilitate the migration of a large number of adult insects into Shandong, the province’s agriculture bureau said.

In an attempt to contain the pest, the bureau has established an expert group divided into eight teams that will carry out inspections and provide on-the-spot guidance throughout the province. This program will run until mid-September, the bureau said.

Reporting by Tom Daly and Hallie Gu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell