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Good news on grasshoppers

Grasshoppers aren't doing as much damage in Montana and South Dakota as first feared, officials in the two states say. "It's not as bad as we expected," says Gary Adams, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Serv...

Grasshoppers aren't doing as much damage in Montana and South Dakota as first feared, officials in the two states say.

"It's not as bad as we expected," says Gary Adams, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's state plant health director in Montana.

He stresses that grasshoppers may be doing significant damage in small, local areas.

A 2011 APHIS survey of adult grasshoppers found that the pests could be a threat this summer in much of the Upper Midwest, particularly in Montana and parts of South Dakota. Warm, dry conditions last fall extended the grasshoppers' egg-laying season, and the mild winter also favored the insects.

It had been feared that widespread drought in Montana and South Dakota would worsen grasshopper numbers even further. Young grasshoppers often drown in heavy rains, so the relative scarcity of rain this summer had been a concern.

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But the number of grasshoppers hasn't reached the level, at least in eastern South Dakota, to economically justify applying pesticides to soybeans, says Adrianna Szczepaniec, assistant professor of entomology at South Dakota State University.

It's unclear why the number of grasshoppers fell short of expectations, particularly given the drought, Adams says.

One possibility is that wet conditions in the spring and summer of 2011 left more pathogens, or disease-causing germs, in the soil, which has cut into grasshopper numbers this year, he says.

Nebraska was considered to be at extreme risk from grasshoppers this year, according to the 2011 APHIS survey.

But grasshoppers in that state also are lower than expected, according to public reports.

Though the insects normally thrive on hot, dry weather, Nebraska's summer has been so hot that many grasshoppers there apparently died, according to the reports.

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