NAMPA, Idaho — Mormon crickets, which can devastate farm fields in short order during infestations, are on the march in parts of Idaho.
Owyhee County vineyard owner Tom Elias said the harsh winter ruined about 85 percent of his wine grape crop in Marsing this year “and then (a few) weeks ago I had Mormon crickets come through and they finished it off.”
Elias has dealt with the pest in past years but never to this extent.
“Those suckers are huge this year; the biggest ones I’ve ever seen,” he said. “I woke up one morning to my house, my car, my tractor, greenhouse, everything, covered in Mormon crickets. And they eat everything in sight.”
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture, which handles Mormon cricket problems on state land and private ground when asked, has received a lot of calls in the past two weeks about the pest, said ISDA Plant Industries Administrator Lloyd Knight.
“It’s plenty busy right now,” he said. “Things are a lot busier than they were a few weeks ago.”
Knight said the Mormon cricket infestations this year are location-specific. The department has received a lot of calls from people in Washington, Gem and Owyhee counties.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service controls Mormon cricket infestations on federal lands.
“We are seeing significantly higher Mormon cricket populations on (Bureau of Land Management) land and a small amount of Forest Service land in southwestern Idaho this year and we are receiving more complaints from neighboring landowners as a result,” Brian Marschman, who heads the APHIS plant health program in Idaho, told Capital Press in an email.
He said Owyhee and Washington counties have the highest populations this year.
“In a few locations we have seen populations as high as 70 per square yard,” he said.
APHIS has treated about 500 acres of BLM land in Owyhee County this year but hasn’t been able to treat larger tracts because of the higher than usual amount of water in the area and the presence of sensitive species, Marschman said.
“We have seen the level of complaints drop after our limited treatments, though,” he said.
Marschman said there is no clear explanation why Mormon cricket populations are much higher this year. Surveys in 2016 indicated an uptick from record low populations from 2012-2015.
“However, cricket infestations at this level were not expected,” he added.
Marschman said his agency has not seen or heard about high grasshopper numbers anywhere in the state.
The ISDA, when asked, distributes bait free of charge to private landowners with more than 5 acres of farmland. The department distributed 89,000 pounds of bait to 138 landowners last year for Mormon cricket and grasshopper suppression.
Go to the ISDA website at www.agri.idaho.gov and click on “Plants & Insects” on the left and then on “Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Control Program.”