The dry conditions early this growing season are, unfortunately, very appealing to grasshoppers. The rise in the grasshopper population has raised questions for farmers, the biggest of which are whether or not it will be effective to spray, and what can be done to salvage the crop that has emerged?
“If grasshoppers are being found along the ditches or fence lines, and are in only about 60 to 100 feet, then it may be worth spraying with an appropriate insecticide to control them,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Stettler.
“Spraying at this point will prevent the grasshoppers from getting in to the entire field or pasture area and stop them from taking a lot of the forage material out of the crop.”
If the grasshoppers are already throughout the entire field, while spraying might give a sense of gratification for controlling the insect, the overall the effectiveness may be limited and the economics may not justify the action.
“The reason grasshoppers are going after hay, forage material or anything that is green, is that they are looking for water,” says Yaremcio. “If producers go in and take what crop is there, cut it now, save the leaves and the quality of the forage, it’s probably the best thing that can be done. The grasshoppers may continue to feed on the cut forage for a couple of days, but once the forage starts to dry down the hoppers will move on to fresh plant growth that is moisture laden.”
Research from past dry years has shown that hay will mature two or three weeks faster than in a normal year. This means that crops head out faster, mature faster and the quality declines faster as well.
“A lot of farmers want to try to maximize yield in dry years,” says Yaremcio. “But what happens when crops stand for an extra week is a loss of about 1.5 to 2 per cent of the protein and five to six per cent of the forage energy content. The quality of the hay crop gets poorer and is eventually more like straw than hay.
When balancing rations, the lower-quality forage requires more protein and supplemental grain. In the long run, waiting for that extra little bit of yield in a dry year will cost more money to supplement cows to keep them in condition.
“As difficult as it may sound, take the situation in hand, cut it now, do the best you can with this first cut and hopefully there will be some rain and enough regrowth to obtain a better second cut.”