LA GRANDE, — Eastern Oregon ranchers and farmers, already hobbled by drought and hay shortages, have a new addition to their list of woes: grasshoppers.

LA GRANDE, — Eastern Oregon ranchers and farmers, already hobbled by drought and hay shortages, have a new addition to their list of woes: grasshoppers.

Cory Parsons, livestock extension agent for Baker and Union counties, says what the drought missed the grasshoppers are getting, and calls it the area's worst infestation in years.

Typically, he says, grasshoppers stay in the rangelands, but wildfires and drought have made rangeland forage scarce in many areas, and grasshoppers are finding food where they can, including alfalfa fields.

They are less visible in sagebrush and on rangeland, but they're being noticed now.

They also are eating lawns, gardens, leaves from fruit trees and pine needles.

The infestations are localized, thick in Sparta and Haines but no worse than usual just outside Baker City.

Parsons says the infestations are mobile.

This year, the grasshopper infestation covers more than 270,000 acres in Union and Baker counties, with as many as 75 grasshoppers per square yard in the worst places. A normal concentration would be 12 to 14 per yard.

Hatches and outbreaks can be cyclical and weather can play a role.

Oregon Department of Agriculture insect specialist Helmuth Rogg says cold winters won't kill eggs that are one to two inches below the surface and a warm, dry spring will favor the hatch of nymphs.

It is the vulnerable nymphs that are the voracious eaters causing the greatest damage. They must eat huge amounts to become mature.

Rogg says once they reach adulthood, they eat less.

But they are more noticeable as they move in swarms eating, mating and seeking light, sandy soil to lay their eggs.

Females can lay 800 eggs, and Rogg says up to 100,000 eggs can be found in one square foot.

Rogg says once they reach the adult stage, it may not be worthwhile using pesticides as the crop damage is done, the grasshoppers have mated, laid their eggs and are dying anyway.

Rogg says pesticides work best during the nymphal stage.

In a severe outbreak with limited food, grasshoppers can affect wheat fields.

Rogg is putting together a meeting for area ranchers and farmers this fall to outline the situation and what he expects for next year.

"There is some federal cost-share money available for spraying, but we need to organize to apply for it," he said.

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Information from: The (La Grande) Observer, http:www.lagrandeobserver.com/