States try to halt grasshoppers munching through Western US

As a multimillion-dollar federal spraying program gets up to full speed, grasshoppers continue to decimate range and farmland in the Western United States. The most serious problem is in Idaho, where an area larger than Connecticut and Massachusetts combined is infested with grasshoppers.

Yet Idaho might be only the beginning of a large problem throughout the West.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), spraying is planned or under way for at least nine other Western states: Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Utah, Arizona, and Colorado. Spraying is being considered in Nebraska, North Dakota, and Washington.

Already, more than 1.5 million acres have been sprayed in Idaho. A total of 5 million acres may be sprayed in the state by the end of July.

``Our farmers are getting eaten alive,'' says Bob Ohlensehlen, an agricultural agent for Jerome County, in southern Idaho.

Spotters have reported areas with concentrations higher than 100 grasshoppers per square yard. The average is 30 to 40 per square yard. Seven grasshoppers per square yard eat as much as a cow, says William Hazen, a county agricultural extension agent in Twin Falls. Some farmers are losing $200 a day; others have lost fall and winter forage, he says.

The problem is particularly frustrating for farmers, because the grasshoppers are coming from public range and desert lands in the state -- the majority of which are owned by the federal government.

Plowing and working soil destroys the insects' eggs, but the eggs hatch freely on untilled range land. The newly hatched grasshoppers have been moving off range areas and into crops.

``We are not asking for a handout,'' says Calvin Webb, a dairy farmer in southern Idaho's Cassia County. ``We're just asking them to take care of their responsibility.''

Local USDA officials say the grasshopper problem could contribute to the failure of more than one-third of the farmers in this state's multibillion-dollar farming industry.

The USDA budgeted $10 million for grasshopper spraying this year in the Western US. But that amount has been used up in less than one month for control efforts in Idaho.

Last week, Agriculture Secretary John Block declared a state of emergency for the area, freeing an additional $15 million for spraying.

Although the federally sponsored spraying program covers the full cost of spraying on public land, private farmers are required to pay the entire cost of spraying on their unplanted areas.

Mr. Webb, whose 1,000-acre dairy farm is surrounded on four sides by Bureau of Land Management range lands, has paid $2,500 to be included in the federal spraying program.

``For me it's been two weeks too late,'' Webb says of the spraying program. He has already lost most of his first alfalfa crop to the grasshoppers.

So far there has been little opposition to the spraying from environmentalists in the state. Very-low volume Malathion, the chemical used in most of the spraying, breaks down chemically in three to five days.

Spraying has, however, been particularly hard on the state's beekeepers. Because Malathion also kills bees, the keepers have had to shuttle hives in and out of areas scheduled for spraying.

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