April 14, 2010

Eastern Australia Suffering From Locust Plague

Farmers in eastern Australia are battling a plague of locusts, which have infested a 190,000 square mile stretch from central Queensland all the way south to the capital of Melbourne.

"What we've got certainly is a very large and widespread infestation," Australian Plague Locust Commission (APLC) chief Chris Adriaansen told AFP reporters on Wednesday. "It's simply a reflection of the fact that we've had widespread rain across that entire area."

According to Adriaansen, things have gotten so bad in some areas that swarms have covered 115 square miles, with one locust per square foot wiping out crops and damaging grazing areas.

Furthermore, he predicts that the numbers will increase this fall as the offspring of the locust hatch in September or October. Once that happens, "we expect there to be some very large infestations again," the APLC head told the news agency.

The APLC is a division of the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) that was established in 1974 to help manage outbreaks of the Australian plague locust, spur-throated locust and migratory locust in the eastern part of the country. The organization is headquartered in Canberra and is tasked with keeping track of locust populations, migratory patterns and, when necessary, elimination of outbreaks through the use of biological pesticides.

Locust swarms are nothing new to Australia. According to the official DAFF website, "The earliest known record of swarms is from 1844. Geographically extensive outbreaks were reported from the 1870s and occurred with an apparent increase in frequency and intensity after 1900."

Locust populations "can reach plague proportions within a year if a sequence of widespread heavy rains occurs in inland areas, particularly during summer, allowing them to complete several generations of increase," the agricultural department homepage also reports. "Heavy summer rainfalls in western Queensland often lead to large population increases and subsequent southward migrations in late summer and autumn. This pattern has characterized several of the recorded major pest outbreaks."


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