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Montana Ag Network: staying ahead of grasshopper infestations

Grasshopper outbreak plagues farmers and ranchers
“It's part of our natural cycle, so you have to always be aware,” said Frank Etzler, Natural Resource Manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Posted at 9:54 PM, Jul 24, 2022

Last summer grasshoppers ravaged through cereal and pulse crops in Central Montana. This year, the negative effects of these pests were far lower, yet Eastern Montana saw some damage to field crops.

“It's part of our natural cycle, so you have to always be aware,” said Frank Etzler, Natural Resource Manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The natural cycle of grasshoppers is no different than any other life cycle. The destruction that these insects can cause to farmer’s crops can vary based on precipitation in the Winter and Spring seasons. It’s an easy concept to understand, more precipitation in those time periods allows for greater mid-year foliage these bugs can feed on. When yearly precipitation is lower and drought stricken, the effect of these grasshoppers is deadlier.

“Warmer winters and warmer falls mean more eggs are laid and survive over winter.” Told Etzler, adding “When they get hungry, then they start to aggregate more and then they move into crops and that's when they cause problems.”

That’s why 2021 was such a terrible year for farmers and insect issues, less fresh foliage in surrounding areas led hoppers to farmers fields. This stems from what MTN Meteorologist Ryan Dennis says, “…which pattern we're in right now…” describing, “It does look like as we head into this upcoming winter and early spring of next year, we're going to say in the La Nina, meaning we're going to continue to have wetter weather than average, which will help reduce the grasshoppers that are around during the summer.”

With the passing of El Nino into La Nina, it essentially saved Central Montana farmers from another headache in 2022.

Weather patterns change daily but monitoring the weather patterns year-round is the first step to being proactive against grasshoppers. The easiest way to manage these pests is by tilling soil in the fields, killing off a new generation of hopper eggs in the soil. It is a fine line of control without killing an entire ecosystem. Montana is a “No Till” state and it hasn’t been for nearly 50 years.

“You have to be tied to your land and kind of pay attention to it throughout the season. So, you can kind of go out in the springtime, and see how many nymphs you see when you walk through. Do you see a lot of things bouncing in front of you because they start off as very small insects, before they get to the really big white ones where they cause the most damage.” Told Etzler.

Etzler also shared that if you’re experiencing heavy nymph action during the springtime in fields, it is best to begin preparing to spray pesticide. Waiting until the latter half of the summer will most likely be too late.

The late spring and early summer precipitation was farmers saving grace during a drought that has no end in sight. The rainfall and snow received was enough to essentially draw these grasshoppers elsewhere this year.

In the western portion of the “Golden Triangle” hoppers didn’t nearly have the effect on agriculture as it did in the eastern portion. The eastern portion did not have the same moisture levels as the other side, but enough to share at time of this report the USDA has had zero claims of grasshopper infestations great enough for the agency to get involved, according to Etzler.

Not to say that these pests weren’t causing problems, for some they have.

It may be a nice gesture to send Mother Nature a holiday card this year. The late rain she brought may have saved this year’s harvest.