Source: University of Nebraska

Large areas of rangeland in western Nebraska were at high risk to grasshopper infestations last year; however, this year could be worse, UNL entomologists say.

Last year, a wet spring gave rangeland grasses an advantage. So far, the climate predications for this year are calling for warmer and dryer weather this spring. This could put rangeland at a disadvantage.

Nebraska map showing areas and levels of potential 2011 grasshopper infestations

The 2011 USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's grasshopper prediction map indicates that large areas of rangeland in western Nebraska are at a high risk (red) for serious grasshopper infestations this summer. Ranchers in these areas should be prepared to monitor the build-up of grasshopper densities during hatching and early development from mid-May through June. (Larger map).

Once again, ranchers in these high-risk areas should be prepared to monitor the build-up of grasshopper densities during the hatching and early development periods from mid-May through June, said Bob Wright, UNL entomologist.

The high risk category is based on 2010 surveys conducted by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Numbers of adult grasshoppers last year are an index of the number of eggs laid, which is the overwintering stage of the most damaging species, Wright said.

Factors Affecting Grasshopper Impact
Even though the potential is high in these areas, the actual impact of grasshoppers will be determined largely by two factors:

Food availability: Immediately after grasshoppers hatch from their eggs, they have few fat reserves and are vulnerable to cool, wet weather. If they can't feed readily during these early stages, high mortality will result. Since grasshoppers hatch over an extended period, only some of the hatch may be affected; however, this mortality can be significant enough to reduce heavy populations below threshold levels in many areas.

Rainfall: In areas with ample rainfall, fewer problems will materialize because of the increased grass growth, resulting in less pressure for grass. Additionally, wet weather improves conditions for pathogens (e.g., fungi) that attack grasshoppers. Dry conditions that limit grass growth and depress insect pathogens result in a greater value for the available forage and a greater need to manage grasshopper populations. Healthier, more vigorous grass growth equals fewer grasshopper problems.

If grasshopper populations readily persist through the early hatching period and dry conditions limit grass growth, there likely will be widespread areas with serious grasshopper infestations, and control may need to be considered, said Jeff Bradshaw, entomologist at UNL's Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff.

Reduced Area Treatment Recommended
Bradshaw recommends control with the reduced agent/area treatments, or RAATs, program. The RAATs program has been widely used and ranchers have been very satisfied with the control levels they've seen.

RAATs consists of spraying a swath and leaving a swath untreated so that only half the treatment block is sprayed, reducing treatment costs. Any of the three insecticides registered for rangeland grasshopper control can be used, but Dimilin has been used almost exclusively with this program in Nebraska. The longer residual of Dimilin (21-28 days) allows time for grasshoppers to move from the untreated areas into the treated area and contact the insecticide.

The overall effectiveness of control may be reduced slightly with this method, but the cost will be reduced by 50 percent or more. A major cost determinant for using RAATs is the size of the treatment block — larger blocks are much more efficient for applicators to treat. If treatments are warranted, ranchers are urged to work together to treat larger areas to increase the efficiency and reduce the cost of treatments.

For more information visit the UNL Department of Entomology.