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Computers May Get the Jump on Grasshoppers

April 30, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ You can stomp grasshoppers, spread poison, bash ’em with shovels, or burn the critters if you have to. Now, the Agriculture Department says computers are the latest weapons.

If some new software being evaluated by USDA experts, state and county extension agents, consultants and ranchers proves out, the computer programs should be ready for general use in another year.

Officials at the Grasshopper Integrated Pest Management project in Boise, Idaho, said managing range livestock is so complex that grasshopper control requires a huge amount of information.

The computer program under development and testing is intended to put information into the hands of range managers, including the latest on grasshopper population forecasts, timing and selection of control options, range condition assessments, weather data and an economic analysis of management practices.

Jim Berry of the department’s rangeland insect laboratory at Bozeman, Mont., said in a recent report that many potential users of the new software package have had little experience with computers.

″In fact, some may have an initial reluctance to use a computer-based system,″ he said. ″Therefore, the system is primarily menu-driven, responds quickly, and requires little knowledge about computers to evaluate a variety of management options.″

Meanwhile, the threat to western rangelands and crops is real, not part of a computer program that can be turned on and off by somebody punching buttons.

A relative of grasshoppers - the Mormon cricket - is merrily chewing its way through parts of Utah and Idaho. These pests, named because they attacked crops of Mormon settlers in Utah in 1848, are also being targeted by USDA scientists.

Last week the department’s Agricultural Research Service said a one-celled microbe that infects and kills Mormon crickets was being released in field tests in southern Idaho.

Entomologist John Henry of Montana State University, Bozeman, said the microbe, a protozoan, was found naturally infecting Mormon crickets in Colorado and Utah.

Once it infects a cricket, the organism acts slowly, taking up to 12 days to multiply. The microbes then kill the crickets by consuming body fat.

″It could be the most promising long-term weapon against them,″ Henry said.

Aside from the possibility of seagulls appearing and devouring the crickets, as they did in 1848 to save the crops of Mormon settlers, the best bet for immediate action against destructive insects still appears to be pesticide-laced bait and aerial spraying.

The anti-grasshopper lobby in Congress has been active lately, including pushes by lawmakers from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota for more action.

As a result, the Senate Appropriations Committee has added $6.8 million to an emergency spending bill to help control an expected grasshopper surge this summer in drought areas of the northern plains.

The USDA budget for 1990 includes only $8.7 million for control of hoppers and crickets, primarily on grasslands.

Sen. Quentin Burdick, D-N.D., chairman of the agricultural appropriations subcommittee, said only eight grasshoppers per square yard can cause economic losses and that some areas are reporting 1,000 or more hoppers per square yard.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been asked to approve an emergency request for the farm use of a pesticide called Asana-XL on grasshopper eggs. The EPA has the request under review.


WASHINGTON (AP) - A new labeling standard for organic food has been approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee, but a major farm organization says the bill needs more work.

The committee voted on Friday to set a national standard for organically grown food, and the measure will be part of the 1990 farm bill that will be considered by the full Senate later this year.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the committee, said the legislation ″sets one tough national standard″ for organic foods. Labels will mean the food has been grown without substances known to be harmful to human health or to cause environmental pollution.

The House, which is also working on the 1990 farm bill, has not passed similar legislation.

But the Farm Bureau says the Leahy bill sets a national standard for organic food and allows states to have tougher standards if they choose. In the federation’s view, this could be confusing to consumers and farmers.

″Consumers need to be guaranteed that organic food for which they paid a premium is produced in accordance with guidelines applicable throughout the country,″ the bureau’s John Datt said in a letter to the Senate panel.

Datt urged Leahy to hold hearings to determine an organic standard and submit recommended legislation to Congress within 18 months after the 1990 farm bill is enacted.


WASHINGTON (AP) - A toll-free consumer hotline operated by the Agriculture Department is proving busier than a single telephone in a home full of teen- agers.

More than 64,000 persons called the USDA’s meat and poultry telephone number in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, said hotline supervisor Sue Templin. That was the most since the service began five years ago.

Templin said in an annual report that most questions handled by the hotline staff related to the handling of turkey, chicken, eggs, beef and pork. Consumers, who made up 86 percent of the callers, also asked frequently about freezer and refrigerator storage times, and the food poisoning organism, salmonella.

Other callers included business people, the news media, government employees, students and teachers, citizen interest groups and legislators.

Persons with questions about the safe handling of meat and poultry can call the hotline weekdays at 1-800-535-4555, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST. Washington, D.C., area callers should dial 447-3333.

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