If spraying is delayed and grasshoppers grow larger and more resilient, federal officials could resort to two more toxic pesticides — carbaryl and malathion, according to government documents.

Selvaggio said pesticides could drift into areas not being targeted and kill beneficial insects such as bees that pollinate crops. “The toxicity is more than enough to kill bees,” she said. “This is not adequate protection.”

Organic farmers are divided on spraying. Some are concerned about losing their organic certification for years if they inadvertently get pesticides on their crops, while others are willing to tolerate spraying out of deference to their neighbors’ problems, said Jamie Ryan Lockman, director of Organic Montana.

The trade group isn’t going to challenge the spraying but wants organic farmers protected and for the government to research alternatives to chemicals for future outbreaks.

As this year’s crop of grasshoppers emerges, they’re starting to compete with cattle for food in arid eastern Montana, where single ranches can sprawl over thousands of acres (hectares) of private and public rangeland.

The grasshoppers start eating tender plants first, then move on to fully-grown plants and the seed heads of grain crops, killing them, said Marko Manoukian, a Montana State University agriculture extension agent in Phillips County. Farmers can collect insurance on damaged crops, whereas ranchers have no recourse when the grasshoppers remove vegetation from public lands.

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