Large numbers of grasshoppers in western Queensland have ravaged pastures for the third year in a row, causing a chorus of graziers and politicians to call for the government to step up its efforts in controlling them.

Key points:

  • Grasshoppers have ravaged pastures in western Queensland for the third year in a row
  • The outbreak has prompted calls from politicians to give graziers better access to insecticides
  • Agforce policy officer and entomologist Marie Vitelli says native parasites could be used to fight future plagues

State Opposition Leader David Crisafulli was the latest to join the lobbying efforts, travelling to Longreach this week to join his LNP colleague and Gregory MP Lachlan Millar calling for governments to make chemicals available to spray the insects.

“We need to be ready to attack this when it happens again,” Mr Millar said.

His calls were backed by the LNP leader who said the party was going to investigate releasing more insecticides to landholders.

David Crisafulli, Boyd Webb and Lachlan Millar kneeling in a paddock

David Crisafulli inspecting grasshopper damage Boyd Webb’s property with Gregory MP Lachlan Millar.(

Supplied: Gordon Faud

)

Chemicals currently unavailable

The main chemical that landholders are looking for access to is called Adonis, only allowed to be used on certain species of locusts which are different to the grasshoppers spreading through western Queensland.

Federal government agency the Australian Plague Locust Commission often uses the chemical to stop plagues before they start to travel and cause damage to crops.

Mr Millar said the chemical should be approved to spray the grasshoppers in his electorate.

“We need the registration of certain chemicals to make sure that these graziers can use a variety of insecticides,” he said.

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Grasshoppers on Eskdale Station near Winton.(Supplied: Tim Elliott)

In order for the spectrum of species to change, the industry or the company that produces the chemical would need to make an application to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA).

The issue was brought to Queensland Agriculture Minister Mark Furner in Parliament last week who said a shortage of information made it hard to create a solution.

“[The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries] is urgently investigating potential chemical treatment options with APVMA that could be approved to use under this permit.”

‘Moving mass’ of grasshoppers

A brown landscape sits beneath a vivid blue sky, with a few green patches of grass remaining.

Few patches of grass remain after grasshoppers decimated pasture at Darr River Downs near Longreach, western Queensland.(

ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons

)

Cameron Tindall, a sheep and cattle grazier at Morella, north-west of Longreach in the state’s west, said after nine years of drought, it was devastating to watch the emerging greenery disappear before his eyes.

“We’ve had enough rain to have a nice little green tinge at least,” Mr Tindall said.

“But they eat it before we get a chance. As soon as it pokes its head up, they’re chewing it off.

Grazier Cameron Tindall looks over his bare paddocks at Darr River Downs

Cameron Tindall says it’s cruel that after nine years of drought, he has to watch any green grass be eaten away before his eyes.(

ABC Rural: Maddelin McCosker

)

Mr Tindall said the rain they received was enough to make the grasshoppers breed up and hatch their eggs.

“The ground was just covered,” he said.

“Your whole ground is just moving. It’s a moving mass.

“I joke that there are 100 different types of grasshopper, and we’ve got 99 of them here.”

After three years, Mr Tindall said he wanted more to get on top of the issue.

“They’ve got to look after us a bit at times too…the government forgets about us a bit out here,” he said.

“People are on their knees in this country here. There’s got to be ways we can control this problem.”

Large area to spray

The insects have been occupying thousands of square kilometres of land, making spraying efforts a difficult prospect for graziers and crop dusting companies.

A crop-dusting plane flies low over a cotton crop, spraying defoliant

An Agforce policy officer said no chemicals were approved to spray grasshoppers by air.(

ABC Rural: Lisa Herbert

)

Agforce policy officer and entomologist Marie Vitelli said any control efforts would need to be strategically done when the grasshoppers were young.

“Get in early when they’re small nymphs or hoppers and control then,” Ms Vitelli said.

“For locusts they can do aerial control with certain insecticides and buffer zones.

A working group has been set up by the Department of Agriculture, Biosecurity Queensland, Australian Plague Locust Commission, and the National Drought and North Queensland Flood Response and Recovery Agency to try and formulate future solutions.

Ms Vitelli said there were some more natural solutions to the issue that could be used in the long term.

“There are a few native parasites that will build up in grasshoppers over time,” she said.

“But they take a lot of time to build up.”

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The LNP is calling for outback Queensland grasshoppers to be sprayed, but can it work?
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