Locust Plague To Strike Australia

CANBERRA, Australia — Although the UN-FAO Locust Watch for the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) advises that all is calm in desert areas across Northern Africa and the Middle East (with a caution upgrade for Saudi Arabia based on recent rainfall), the situation in Australia is much different for the Australian plague locust (Chortoicetes terminifera). Farmers in the Australian Outback have received warnings from the Australian Plague Locust Commission that a devastating infestation could sweep across the region, reports the Times Online. In early April, millions of locusts swarmed across 500,000 square kilometers in parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares of early-sown wheat and barley. In the town of Forbes, reports the Times, approximately 10,000 hectares of wheat and barley already has been consumed by locusts.

Farmers in Canberra are worried about damage to the country’s still-recovering rice industry, says The Wall Street Journal. Peak production of 1.64 million tons in 2001 plummeted to 19,000 tons in 2008. The crop is slowly making its way back, with an estimated 200,000 ton harvest this year. Most of the current rice crop has already been harvested, but growers are concerned about the 2011 crop.

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The most substantial rainfall drought-stricken inland Australia has received in many years is to blame for what is expected to be a worse plague than 2004, when the first swarms alone caused over US $24 million in damage. The 2004 infestation also involved the desert locust, which destroyed up to 50% of Mauritania’s cereal crop and hit southwest Libya, southern Algeria and the borders of Morocco.

The biggest threat is expected to strike from mid-September through October, which is springtime in Australia. According to Australian Plague Locust Commission, swarms of migrating locusts can travel more than 500 kilometers per day. Swarms of up to 25 square kilometers can form; a swarm of just 1 square kilometer can consist of up to 50 million locusts and consume 10 metric tons of crops and other vegetation every 24 hours, according to National Geographic. Until about two weeks from the time they hatch, locusts are flightless and can be sprayed with insecticides on the ground. Once they are airborne, however, they must be sprayed from the air.