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Ranchers gear up for potential grasshopper infestation

Dawson County ranchers could be battling grasshoppers later this summer.

State entomologists met with area landowners Friday afternoon in Broken Bow where they reported that the first wave of eggs have hatched.

Entomologists said some of the insects had been killed because of cool, spring weather, according to Custer County Extension educator Troy Walz who hosted the meeting.

“Landowners need to watch their pastures because a second hatch could come along anytime,” Walz said.

Concern about an infestation this year began last summer when United States Department of Agriculture officials conducted an annual survey of adult egg-laying grasshoppers and recorded high numbers on much of Nebraska rangeland.

That could make an infestation likely with the warm weather Nebraska has enjoyed recently.

Earlier Friday, Dawson County Extension educator Bruce Treffer said cool, wet weather can prevent newly hatched grasshoppers from feeding and they could die.

“But since grasshoppers hatch over an extended time, only some of the hatch may be affected,” Treffer said.

Walz said grasshoppers, that can lay eggs two weeks after becoming adults, live for a couple of months.

If there’s ample rainfall and good grass growth, he said competition for grass between livestock and grasshoppers will be minimized whereas dry conditions means less forage and more problems.

“Ranchers need to be paying attention and get out in the their pastures to see what kind of numbers they have,” Treffer said.

Observation of grasshopper densities from mid May through June is critical.

So far this spring, Treffer said he hasn’t seen a lot of hoppers but they’ve just started to hatch.

Unfortunately, Walz said there is no money this year to help Nebraska rangeland owners spray for grasshoppers.

In the past, an Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service suppression program has been offered through the USDA.

However Walz said ranchers can still take advantage of a reduced agent/area treatment strategy which involves spraying one swath of land and leaving another untreated to reduce costs.

Because of the cost to spray rangeland with a not-so-exceptional profit margin, Treffer said it’s usually a major decision to do it.

During the last big grasshopper outbreak in Nebraska in 2003, he said some landowners sprayed privately with a fast-acting chemical.

Treffer said neighbors need to discuss the issue with each other.

“If one neighbor sprays and the other one doesn’t, you could have a problem,” he said.

Although certain species of hoppers prefer cropland, Treffer said the potential for damage is usually more from rangeland, grass-eating hoppers.

“But those grasshoppers can move to cropland so some farmers spray the borders of their crops to keep them from moving in,” he explained.

Treffer said infestation from rangeland-eating hoppers have seemed more prevalent in the past probably because cropland farmers spray their crops more.

He noted that grasshoppers this year are more typical in their hatching patterns.

Referring to the outbreak in 2003, Treffer said those grasshoppers were much larger and hatched in early spring.

“So you had to move quicker.”

For more information about grasshoppers, call Treffer at 308-324-5501, Walz at 308-872-6831 or University of Nebraska-Lincoln entomologist Dave Boxler at 308-696-6721.

Information is also available on the web, click here.

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