Farmers have to deal with many variable conditions, including changes in weather and pests.
Right now, a big obstacle facing those in southern Alberta’s agriculture industry is the infestation of grasshoppers.
“It’s been the worst year (in) many, many years,” said Ryan Mercer, president of Mercer Seeds Ltd., on Tuesday, “mainly because of the heat and the dry weather, so it’s been a real problem in a lot of our crops.”
Mercer, whose farm is located approximately 20 kilometres southeast of Lethbridge, said the totality of damage will become apparent upon harvest, but he expects that around 10 per cent of his current crop was wiped out.
“The perimeters of the fields have been the worst, and then they move in toward the centre,” he said.
According to Farming Smarter research co-ordinator Mike Gretzinger, grasshoppers tend to gravitate toward dryland crops as opposed to irrigated crops, and the insects don’t discriminate when choosing what to feed on.
“They often hatch just beside us here in the ditches and roadways and kind of other vegetative places, and then they just move in from the field edges, and they start feeding on whatever is tasty to them,” Gretzinger said.
“They’ll feed on canola and wheat and barley and pretty much anything.”
However, not all grasshoppers are considered pests. Out of dozens of species, Gretzinger said only a few are harmful.
“We’ve got upwards of 80 species in Alberta. There’s really only about five species that cause the majority of the damage,” he said.
George Lubberts, president and owner of Complete Agronomic Services, believes infestations should be looked at carefully before deciding a course of action.
A certain population threshold and severity of damage should be considered before using pesticides.
“We have a lot of good bugs, and when you spray to kill the bad ones, you also kill the (good ones),” Lubberts explained. “So let’s make sure we are at those threshold levels before we start pulling out the pesticides that are needed to protect the crop.”
Unfortunately, Mercer has had to resort to spraying much of his land to quell the damage.
“We’ve had to spray the whole field. (It’s) not something we like to do, but we just had to this year. They’ve been really bad,” he explained.
“An economic decision on whether or not to control them or how to control them could be a pretty big sum. You know, the size of most people’s mortgages,” Gretzinger said.
“You weigh the cost of the application versus the cost of the yield benefit.”
Gretzinger added if hot and dry weather conditions continue, there’s a possibility next season could see even worse infestations.