Farmers brace for grasshopper invasion
A major infestation of grasshoppers could descend this summer on Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and the Dakotas, damaging rangeland and crops, ranchers, farmers and scientists say.
In some places, this summer could be the worst for grasshoppers since the mid-1980s, said Charles Brown, a grasshopper suppression specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“There is the potential for widespread outbreaks this summer,” Brown said. “We could see grasshopper levels several times of what you would see in a normal year.”
Less severe but significant outbreaks are possible in Nevada, Utah and Idaho, according to the USDA.
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The threat assessment is based on results from the USDA’s annual survey of adult grasshopper populations conducted in late summer, Brown said. High numbers recorded last year were part of a natural buildup of grasshopper populations that occurs periodically. Those adult grasshoppers laid eggs that could hatch bugs that cause a much bigger problem this summer, he said.
Last year was trouble enough, said Marge West, whose family operates a 10,000-acre cattle, wheat and alfalfa ranch northwest of Gillette, Wyo.
“Last year we lost probably a third of our rangeland,” said West, 74. “If it’s any worse this year, we’re going to have a real disaster.”
Duane Binde, who owns a 2,000-acre farm in North Dakota just east of the Montana line, admits concern after noticing “quite a few” grasshoppers during last year’s harvest. A wet spring apparently has delayed grasshopper hatching, he says, and he hopes the problem won’t be too severe.
“Mother Nature has worked in our favor so far,” said Binde, 56. “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”
Clouds of grasshoppers could be the thickest Nevada has experienced in years, said Jeff Knight, entomologist with the Nevada Department of Agriculture. Grasshoppers could wipe out crops and decimate fields of native grasses cattle need for food, Knight said. “They tend to really focus on crops as far as a food source,” he said. “I’ve seen alfalfa fields where there’s nothing left but stubble.”
Ron Cerri, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, worries a grasshopper invasion could greatly reduce forage needed for livestock, which could have a major economic impact.
If grasshoppers do emerge in big numbers, state and federal officials could spray land with chemicals that inhibit molting, which would eventually kill the insects.
For private landowners, technical aid and some financial assistance are available, Knight said.
The trick is catching the problem early before grasshoppers take flight, he said.
“Once they are winged, they are very difficult to control,” Knight said.