Grasshopper Problem Could be Worse in 2021


A map from the USDA predicting grasshopper numbers in Montana in 2021. Areas in red are expected to be above the economic threshold of 15 or more grasshoppers per square yard. Areas in orange are predicted to have between 8 and 15 grasshoppers per square yard.

By Josh Margolis

MALTA, Mont. (NMB) – The influx of grasshoppers in Montana is expected to get worse next year, according to experts.

“Last year, USDA’s APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) had some funding and tried to get together some spraying (for grasshoppers in rangeland acres),” says Phillips County MSU-Extension Agent Marko Manoukian. “But they couldn’t get agreement with the Bureau of Land Management on how to go about the application. So without participation by the BLM, they couldn’t do anything last year. So consequently, most of the grasshoppers that showed up last year all laid eggs.”

Grasshoppers are much more than just a nuisance to farmers and ranchers, as they can cause significant economic damage.

“We’re talking 26-plus million acres (in Montana) potentially impacted by grasshoppers next year,” Manoukian says, adding that the areas in red on the USDA prediction map covers 300,000 cattle in Montana.

Manoukian says that in southern Phillips County last year, they lost some spring crops and had more crop damage later in the summer as harvest neared.

“The other thing that happened was we had a more traditional July and August that were dry, complicated with the grasshopper infestation, some producers in south Phillips County lost weight as they got closer to shipping time. That’s probably going to be somewhere between 40 pounds and higher that they lost to their estimate in weight compared to what they actually sold because of the grasshopper infestation.”

Manoukian says according to a USDA APHIS survey, on July 1st 2020, there were between 30 and 80 grasshoppers per square yard in southern Phillips County, well above the threshold to cause economic damage.

“If you weren’t impacted last year, you could be this coming year as those hoppers look for better foraging. But certainly the count, APHIS does a fall count, so they know those individuals are out there and they are laying eggs. Like I said, if it wasn’t sprayed last year, and we did very little control, and it didn’t get hit by a vehicle, it laid eggs. And there were lots of egg layers that we got towards the end of summer. And the migration came, it went from south Phillips County across Highway 2 and went north. By the end of the summer, people in the north country started to notice grasshoppers.”

To prevent grasshoppers from impacting your acreage, Manoukian says early scouting is key.

“We get to the end of May and the beginning of June, we really have to start going out and looking on a weekly basis. Cool, wet weather in the spring may only delay the grasshoppers. That’s what happened in 2019, and that’s why USDA APHIS wasn’t good at predicting what was going to be happening, because the hatch actually occurred and the damage occurred in August in 2019. So early scouting and trying to get more funding (are key).”

Manoukian says USDA APHIS only has $1 million appropriated for the 2021 grasshopper season for the entire Western US.

“Reach out to your Congressional delegation…look on the internet for their contact information, and let them know what you’re facing. I could see where we could spend a million just in south Blaine and Phillips County. That wouldn’t lead much left for the rest of the state, nor the other place which is experiencing an outlook like this, which is Oregon.”

Manoukian also suggests reaching out to Gary Adams, Montana’s State Plant Health Director for USDA APHIS, as well as your local Extension Agent.

“If nothing else, tell them about how many private acres of rangeland, state rangeland, or BLM rangeland you may be looking at spraying based on the map, and give that information to your County Agent, and they can forward it to USDA APHIS and Gary. He can use that as ammunition to at least say the need (for funding) is great.”

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