Thursday, June 10, 2010

Fight against Western grasshopper infestation looks much different than in previous years

Farmers are fighting this year's Western U.S. grasshopper outbreak, which we have covered here and here, in new ways. "Bug wars have long punctuated life in the nation’s grassy midsection, but this year is an exclamation point," Kirk Johnson of The New York Times reports. At least $25 million in hay, wheat and alfalfa alone is at risk in a 7,800-square-mile section of Wyoming with portions of Montana and South Dakota also at serious risk.

"The grasshopper fight of 2010 is different from past plagues in money, tactics and science," Johnson writes. "With low farm prices last year, many ranchers decided to forgo the $1-an-acre spraying fee for prophylactic grasshopper control." That failure to spray, combined with ample spring rains this year and last fell left more adults to lay more eggs. "Largest project in my lifetime — nothing even close," Dean McClain, 56, owner of Wyoming-based Ag Flyers, which is contracted for pesticide treatment work, told Johnson. "Average year for me is about 2,000 acres. This year, I’ll do just short of a million."

"The federal government, which led the grasshopper counterattack during the last big outbreak, in 1985 — and before that in the early 1970s — has also retreated under financial pressure and is focusing its bug-killing firepower this year on federal and American Indian tribal lands," Johnson writes. Spring rains, which some had hoped would kill many of the grasshopper nymphs, were too early or too late to cause significant damage to the population. The technology surrounding the kill has improved since the 1980s outbreak, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture sprayed fields with a broad-spectrum insecticide that also wiped out many other species and has been linked to human health concerns. Now pilots use Dimilin, which kills grasshoppers indirectly, by hampering their ability to molt between growth stages. (Read more)

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