Pest species of grasshoppers

Pest species of grasshoppers

SALEM — Oregon Department of Agriculture staff say the agency’s program to control grasshopper and Mormon cricket infestations is severely underfunded.

ODA’s grasshopper control program was designed to suppress grasshopper populations to prevent mass damage to cropland and pasture, but Alexis Taylor, the agency’s director, said the program has “major budget holes.”

Infestations are a serious problem in Oregon, where farmers have faced enormous crop and forage losses to the insects the past few years. Studies from USDA and the University of Wyoming suggest a typical infestation can remove 20% of forage or cropland and have a $400 million to $900 million impact.

Grasshopper and cricket populations are usually worse in drought years, including 2021.

“We had a pretty big outbreak this year,” Taylor told other state agriculture department leaders at a recent event run by the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

USDA’s “20201 Rangeland Grasshopper Hazard” map showed parts of Oregon this year had densities of at least 15 insects per square yard. According to a study by Washington State University in Pullman, 15 to 20 grasshoppers per square yard, spread over a 40-acre field of alfalfa, can eat one ton of hay per day. In fact, just eight grasshoppers per square yard is enough to cause economic damage, according to USDA.

Jake Bodart, program manager for ODA’s Insect Pest Prevention and Management Program, told the Capital Press that ODA’s grasshopper program was funded years ago at a level meant to cover up to 2 million acres per year, but the number and scale of infestations has increased over time, and in 2021, 10.5 million acres were “economically infested” with grasshoppers.

Funding levels, however, have remained stagnant, meaning the department has the capacity to do surveys and suppression activities on just 20% of total infected acres statewide.

The grasshopper program, Bodart said, is funded by $92,687 in federal funds from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and $83,417 in state and lottery funds. These funds cover salaries for related staff positions.

“The current funding and staffing level do not provide enough resources for stakeholders to have survey data, treatment suppression suggestions and timelines to suppress grasshoppers in the same survey season,” said Bodart.

The current funding level, Bodart said, simply doesn’t allow for “enough boots on the ground.”

Taylor told other state agriculture department leaders that she is talking with APHIS in an effort to secure more funding and staff capacity. Taylor said she has also “flagged this with (Senator Jeff) Merkley.”

Bodart, the agency’s insect expert, said he believes that due to climate change, predicted drier climates and prolonged droughts, the level of economically infested acreage will continue to rise in future years, so more federal support is needed.

“The grasshopper program in the West needs significant investment into the future on a national level,” said Bodart. Grasshoppers, he said, are “here to stay.”

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