In addition to a debilitating heat wave, an active wildfire season and an ongoing drought drying up crops in the West, farmers are also dealing with a growing number of locusts and Mormon crickets.
The USDA’s “2021 Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard” map shows parts of eastern Oregon and southern Idaho have high insect numbers. The map shows that part of Oregon has a density of at least 15 insects per square meter. According to Helmuth Rogg, director of Plant Protection & Conservation Programs for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, eight locusts per square foot are considered sufficient to cause economic damage to grassland and cropland.
In 2020, Oregon had more than 1 million acres of locust infestations.
“The biggest consumer of biomass in this country isn’t cattle, it’s not bison, it’s not something else, it’s grasshoppers,” Rogg said.
Agricultural damage from locusts can be catastrophic. Grasshoppers can eat 30 to 100 milligrams of dry plant matter each day, and 6 to 7 grasshoppers per square meter eat as much as one cow.
According to the USDA, the 17 western states affected by the insects annually have an average of $400 million in forage loss and 20% cropland loss.
This spring, officials worked with private landowners in Klamath County and Harney County, advising the community to water just as the locust eggs hatch. For the most part it worked in that area.
Farm officials have also seen a spread in other areas, such as Baker County in Oregon and Walla Walla County in Washington.
This year, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service contracted to treat 19,000 acres and protected about 39,000 acres through cooperative treatment projects, said Clint Burfitt, APHIS state director of plant health in Oregon.
Rogg said the state spends between $2 and $4 to water an acre.
In the spring, grasshoppers hatch and eat until their bodies are large enough to grow genitals and wings that enhance their maturity. That’s their current stage in Oregon, meaning Dimilin, an insecticide that interferes with the moulting in immature stages of insects, is now ineffective.
“At this point, it’s too late to do anything about it, because the damage has already been done,” Rogg said.
However, land managers can contact local applications to arrange other treatments independently; APHIS will provide technical assistance with treatments.
Parts of Oregon and Idaho are also experiencing a Mormon cricket infestation.
According to KIVI-TV, some Idaho residents experienced an infestation of Mormon crickets and shield-backed katydids this spring as millions made their way through Owyhee country.
However, some environmentalists are concerned about the effects that pesticides intended to control the insects will have.
“These are grasslands, sometimes with hundreds of different native pollinator species…” said Aimee Code, pesticide program director at the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a conservation group that focuses on insects.
Sharalyn Peterson, a program manager for healthy wildlife and water at the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, suggests less toxic insecticides, such as BotaniGard ES and Safer BioNeem, that stunt population growth. Biological biological controls such as: Nosema lobsters provide long-term locust protection, she said.
Rogg said Dimilin is relatively safe to use in pasture environments because it shouldn’t harm other insects such as butterflies, which go through a pupa stage before reaching adulthood.
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