Grasshoppers make a buzz on the radar, in Mont. fields

That there were so many bugs in the air that technology thought it might be raining seems extreme, but many farmers in central and eastern Montana likely weren’t surprised.

Grasshoppers have been plentiful in central and eastern Montana during the summer of 2020. (Alan Schmierer photo)

BILLINGS, Mont. — On July 31, the meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Billings pointed out an oddity — a spot on the radar from Livingston to Forsyth and from Roundup to Greybull, Wyo., where it looked like it might be raining when there actually were clear skies. So what was causing the disturbance?

Grasshoppers and other bugs.

That there were so many bugs in the air that technology thought it might be raining seems extreme, but many farmers in central and eastern Montana likely weren’t surprised. Callie Cooley, Montana State University Extension agent for Yellowstone County, said that though the bug density varies even within a single county, there’s no doubt there have been more grasshoppers than usual this year.

“We are definitely having a year with a high, high volume of grasshoppers,” she said.


Cooley first noticed them in June, on her husband’s family’s place in Musselshell, north of Billings, where she saw tiny baby grasshoppers all over as they walked the range.

“I had never seen that many in my life,” she said.

Cooley believes wheat and barley, coming off the fields now across the area, likely were spared the worst of the damage from the bugs.

“If producers didn’t get on control in a reasonable time, they definitely are seeing crop damage” in some places, she said.

Alfalfa fields intended for a third cutting might be seeing damage and could benefit from being sprayed with an insecticide. Cooley said where her family farms east of Miles City, they’ve sprayed entire alfalfa fields and perimeters multiple times. Usually, the fields don’t get sprayed for bugs at all.

“You can even see at the edges, they’re chewing up corn and things like that,” she said.

There are limited products that are helpful on grasshoppers, Cooley said. Several are restricted use, so they require someone with a private applicator license to purchase and spray them. And as grasshoppers mature, some products aren’t as effective. However, she said producers seeing a high concentration of bugs should still consider spraying.

“You still certainly can spray and do some good, and I probably would recommend it, because if you don’t you’re probably not going to have much left,” she said.


The Extension office has received a lot of calls from people wondering what they can do for their gardens.

“I think a lot of people have had to just kind of throw in the towel with gardens and things like that,” she said.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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