Cyclone spawns Oz locust plague

By Boyd Champness

WIDESPREAD flooding throughout New South Wales and Queensland earlier this year has resulted in locust numbers reaching plague proportions.

Tens of billions of grasshoppers are swarming throughout the two states, poised to make their migration south to Victoria.

The Australian Plague Locust Commission said if weather conditions permit, the plague could cause up to $A200 million (75m) damage to cereal and vegetable crops, and vines, in at least three states.

Commission forecaster Dr Paul Walker told The Age newspaper that the plague was the worst in more than a decade.

The locust threat originated in Queenlands Channel Country in January following flooding brought on by cyclone Steve, which lashed Australias northern coastline.

The commission attempted a heavy spray control programme, but wet weather prevented a sustained attack on the insects.

They have since spread as far south as Victoria and west to parts of South Australia and Western Australia.

Early reports suggest Australias largest wheat-producing state, Western Australia, is on the threshold of its worst invasion in 10 years.

“It is a very bad infestation,” Dr Walker told The Age. “The potential for the plague to have a big economic impact is large.”

Dr Walker said the ramifications of any locust invasion would not become clear until spring, when eggs laid before the onset of winter began to hatch.

He told the newspaper that locusts travel at night and there was only a slim chance the authorities would be able to spray them before they laid their eggs in Victoria.

“Often by the time you locate them, theyve done the deed and you have to wait until spring when its too late,” he said.

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