CSU Extension office works to eradicate grasshoppers

The clear-winged grasshopper understands what it means to be fruitful and multiply.

But when it does, ranchers and farmers on the Western Slope, as in much of the rest of North America, can have a big problem on their hands.

The clear-winged isn’t the only grasshopper species to invade grasslands and tilled fields in the region, but it’s the most prevalent and the most destructive, said Bob Hammon, bug czar in the Grand Junction office of the Colorado State University Extension Service.

That’s why the entomologist is on a mission to eradicate as many as he can.

“We’ve had grasshopper issues for several years, and we still have several hot spots,” Hammon said. “Grasshopper control is incredibly complex, and controlling them is a social endeavor. If you’re the only one trying grasshopper control on your couple acres and you’re surrounded by an ocean of grasshoppers, you’re going to lose that battle.”

Currently, Hammon is busy trying to get an aerial-spray program under way for nearly 3,000 acres on the Reeder and Purdy mesas near Gateway.

Although he organized a spray program there three years ago, it didn’t take as he and area landowners would have liked. That’s partly because there wasn’t enough buy-in from all landowners.

Grasshoppers lay eggs in loose soil during the fall, and they do so by the thousands. If the ensuing winter isn’t cold enough to kill some of those egg pods, nymphal hoppers will eat everything in sight within weeks of hatching in the spring, which also is the only time to control them, Hammon said.

That time is soon upon us.

“They’re going to start hatching here in the next couple of weeks,” Hammon said. “We’ve got to get them when they’re small.”

He said it doesn’t take a grasshopper infestation long to spread from a few acres to many square miles.

As a result, it’s important that as many landowners as possible, at least 85 to 90 percent in any given area, agree to spraying.

Hammon didn’t have that in 2007, the last time he organized spraying on Reeder and Purdy mesas. As a result, the grasshoppers have returned.

“That’s because we missed some prime ground that we’re trying to get included this year,” he said. “A lot of people are in it now, because they know what the grasshoppers cost them.”

This time he’s doing better in getting buy-in because residents are tired of dealing with the insatiable insects, said Lori Wynn, a Purdy Mesa rancher.

To date, about 80 percent of the landowners are prepared to pay the nearly $5-per-acre expense of spraying about 750 acres on the mesas, and Hammon and Wynn are hoping for more.

The program uses an insecticide called Dimilin 2L, a grasshopper growth regulator that doesn’t harm crops or other insects. It only works on small grasshoppers in their first three stages of life, which can last anywhere from three to six weeks after eggs hatch.

Wynn said once the grasshoppers start to hatch, she hopes more residents will remember just how bad it’s been and will sign up.

“If we can get a better response, we should be grasshopper-free for seven to eight years, but we’re going to have to move on it very quickly,” she said. “As far to how effective it is, it’s cheap. In 2006, our hay grounds in the summer looked like it was the middle of December. When you compare that to how much the spraying costs, you’re way ahead.”

Wynn said the grasshoppers don’t restrict themselves to crops. Lilacs and just about anything else that grows is a food source that the grasshopper can and does find, she said.

Residents won’t know how effective a spray program will be until later in the summer, but by then it’s too late to do more spraying until the next spring, said Charles Meiklejohn, a Collbran rancher.

Meiklejohn helped Hammon organize a similar spraying of about 20,000 acres in the Plateau Valley in 2005.

Before that spraying, the grasshoppers were everywhere. Despite the added expense, area residents knew doing nothing would have been costly, he said.

“We estimated that the impact to the agricultural economy in the Plateau Valley was in the neighborhood of $1 million-plus in 2004,” Meiklejohn said, “so we got good participation, and most people seem to think it’s done well. People knew the grasshopper infestation was terrible.”

Because the valley got sufficient buy-in from the start, landowners there won’t have to do it again anytime soon, he said.

While Collbran-area landowners are living with fewer grasshoppers these days, and residents on Purdy and Reeder mesas hope to be soon, residents around Loma north of Fruita will have to fend for themselves.

Hammon said he considered trying to organize a similar spray program there, but he quickly rejected the idea.

Unlike Collbran and Purdy/Reeder, there are smaller lots and far too many landowners, about 470 of them, to get enough buy-in to make it worthwhile.

The worst area is from 16 Road to 10 Road north of U.S. Highway 50, he said.

“There are so many landowners and so many small acreages in there, there’s no way we could organize an aerial application,” Hammon said. “So many people say, ‘I don’t have a problem. I just have a couple of chickens.’ That’s a shortsighted view. Then there are people who don’t want anything to do with sprays, so it’s a challenge.”


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