China's northeast cornbelt likely to be hit by fall armyworm in 2020: government report

BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned earlier this week that a destructive pest that has threatened the country’s grain output is expected to hit more crops across wider areas in 2020, including the key corn-growing region in the northeast.

FILE PICTURE: An armyworm is seen on corn crop by night at a village in Menghai county in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, China, July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Fall armyworm, first detected in China’s southwestern province of Yunnan in January this year, is expected to spread to the corn belt in the northeast next year, a government institute said in a report on Monday, citing the pest’s reproduction patterns and high mobility.

“It is expected that in 2020, fall armyworm will be very severe and the situation will be extremely grave,” according to the report by the National Agriculture Technology Extension Service Center(NATESC), an institute under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

The pest infested 16.88 million mu (1.13 million hectare) of land in 26 provinces and regions in 2019, NATESC said in the report. Fall armyworms, which feast in large numbers on the leaves and stems of many plant species, including sorghum, corn and sugarcane, can’t be eradicated and can infest and damage hundreds of hectares of crops in a single night.

China is the world’s second-biggest corn consumer and producer. While 98.1% of the land infested by fall armyworm in 2019 was corn field not in the northeast, 19 other crops including wheat, ginger, sugarcane and sorghum were also hit, NATESC said in the report, published on its website.

Beijing warned earlier this year that armyworm was a severe threat to the country’s food security and in May launched a campaign to “snatch grain from the insect’s mouth”.

With its arrival expected in the north early next year, the report warned of an increasing risk that armyworm will hit corn during its budding period, devastating young crops. In the absence of corn, the pest will turn to wheat in neighboring areas.

Larva of the pest has already been found in 9,120 mu of wheat field in China since late September, in provinces including Shandong, Henan and Jiangsu, major growers of the grain in China, the world’s top consumer and producer of wheat, according to the report.

First found in the Americas, fall armyworm has spread through Asia since it was detected in southern India late last year.

NATESC urged local authorities to inspect winter crops in their region, and include fall armyworm as a regular and major target for monitoring.

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