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Farmers warn of locust plague -

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Farmers warn of locust plague

The World Today - Tuesday, 28 October , 2008 12:50:00

ELEANOR HALL: Farmers in northern Victoria are desperately trying to control the locusts that are
threatening to wipe out the region's crops.

The heaviest concentration of the pests is in the heart of the cropping area east of Shepparton.

Authorities say they haven't seen locust numbers like this since the 1970s, and they warn that the
insects could spread interstate.

Rachael Brown has our report.

RACHAEL BROWN: Good rainfall in Dookie near Shepparton in Victoria's north this year, has ensured a
healthy crop season but has also attracted pests.

There've been more than 200 confirmed sightings of locusts in the region.

ROSS GEDDES: For our area it's a whole new experience because talking to some of the older farmers
in the area, they can never remember anything like this before.

RACHAEL BROWN: Dookie grain farmer Ross Geddes says farmers are racing to find and control the
locust hatchings before they take flight in the next couple of weeks.

ROSS GEDDES: The DPI are advising some farmers where some of these hatchings are occurring, a lot
of farmers are just finding them themselves, then when we do confirm that they are the grasshoppers
we're just going out spraying what we can with insecticide.

RACHAEL BROWN: He says as the numbers increase, the locusts will head towards the region's green
crops like Lucerne.

ROSS GEDDES: We've been fortunate to have a bit of rain and a lot of stored moisture from summer
rains and look our crops don't look too bad, hopefully, we're just hoping that the crops will be
dried up enough before the grasshoppers get too bad.

RACHAEL BROWN: Victoria's Locust Control Centre says the last time the state saw similar numbers of
Australian plague locusts was back in the 70s.

The Centre's Gordon Slater, says they're more common in New South Wales, but this year's rains and
good food sources have made for prime breeding ground in both states.

GORDON SLATER: This event only happens to this level about once every 50 years so we've got locust
hatchings over about 1.2 million hectares and they pose a fairly significant threat to the crops in
those areas and pastures.

RACHAEL BROWN: Is northern Victoria faring the worst? What are some other areas that have been hit
hard?

GORDON SLATER: It's confined to an area probably west of Rutherglen and east of Echuca down to
Shepparton. The other area of course is NSW where there are much more significant numbers than we
have in Victoria.

RACHAEL BROWN: What areas are being affected in NSW?

GORDON SLATER: It's up as far as Narrandera and Condobolin through to Wagga, right down through to
Deni and Cawarra right on the border of Victoria and NSW and of course then we have the
corresponding problem just straight across the river from those.

RACHAEL BROWN: And what are the chances of migration from NSW to Victoria or vice versa?

GORDON SLATER: It's quite high actually. Locusts, if conditions are ideal, once they're fledged and
on the wing, they look for a frontal system, they develop the ability to fly well up into the air
and get on a jet stream and they can travel up to 700kms, basically on what we call night flights.

Now it depends on which way that frontal system's coming, if it's coming from Victoria, they'll
head up into NSW. If it's coming from the North a lot of NSW locusts and the Victorian locusts will
move further south and come through Victoria.

RACHAEL BROWN: Farmers will learn in the next couple of weeks how bad the locust problem will be.

But Ross Geddes says they'll be able to weather it, after all, they have experience.

ROSS GEDDES: Look we've had kicks all year long, between high fertiliser prices, high fuel prices
and as the year sort of progressed we had stripe rust come along and we've had to spray it. Then
we've had aphids in canola and we've had to spray for them and yeah now we've got the locusts so
we've just about had everything this year.

ELEANOR HALL: Ross Geddes is one of those farmers from the locust plagued area in northern
Victoria, he was speaking to Rachael Brown.