Drought still affecting this year’s grasshopper population

COLLEGE STATION – Last year's drought is the most likely reason producers are seeing more grasshoppers and fewer honeybees this year, according to a Texas AgriLife Extension Service expert.

High grasshopper populations are tied to hot, dry weather for a number of reasons, said Dr. Chris Sansone, associate department head and AgriLife Extension program leader for entomology, San Angelo.

"The drought damaged range and pasture grasses thus creating areas with no to little grass," Sansone explained. "Hatching grasshoppers use these areas to warm up in the spring. The open areas also slow the insect fungus that normally controls grasshoppers. The fungus is one of the main threats to small grasshoppers, and the open areas dry out quicker, which limits the fungus, with the result of a larger proportion of eggs surviving."

But grasshoppers, being cold-blooded, also thrive with warmer temperatures, he said. Hot weather means their metabolisms run faster, so they eat more and grow faster.

On top these factors, the grasshopper hatch came early this year because of the relatively warm spring, Sansone said.

The best way to control grasshoppers is to spray when the hatches first start, when control is very inexpensive.

"Insecticides like Dimilin prevent the insects from molting," Sansone said. "The product must be sprayed when the grasshoppers are young, before they form wings."

But even in a normal year, "what usually happens is that people aren't paying attention to development, and by June and July we have large grasshopper numbers leaving their habitat in search of food resulting in a constant invasion, and we have to spray every seven to 10 days," he said.

And it was easier to get behind this year as the hatch came a couple of weeks early in many areas due to unseasonably warm weather, Sansone added.

"Normally, we said we need to treat in mid-April, but this year, we needed to treat in mid-March to the first of April," he said.

But grasshopper issues, though horrendous in some areas, still vary throughout the state.

"The state is big enough, and the conditions are different enough that infestations are not very consistent," Sansone said. "So we have traditional hot spots such as Central Texas and around the Stephenville area. But in South Texas, we very rarely hear about grasshopper outbreaks, and I haven't heard of any in the Weslaco or the Corpus Christi regions right now."

There have also been regional reports of poor honeybee honey-production and low brood numbers despite many areas having good flower blooms. Sansone said this too is most likely a result of the drought.

"There was a large decline in hive strength because of that drought, in my opinion," Sansone said. "I don't think the numbers were high coming into 2012, and I think that is what the beekeepers are experiencing. We had good flower production so you would have thought that nectar production would have been good, but the bee numbers just weren't there."

When we see our highest bee numbers is when there is average or above-average moisture, he said.

More information on the current Texas drought and wildfire alerts can be found on the AgriLife Extension Agricultural Drought Task Force website at http://agrilife.tamu.edu/drought/ .

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

The 12 Texas AgriLife Extension Service Districts

Central: Most counties received good rains. Many farmers had applied fertilizer earlier in anticipation of the rains. The winter-wheat harvest went well. Yields ranged from 40 to 70 bushels per acre, with a median of about 55 bushels per acre. Corn and sorghum continued to look good. Thrips in cotton increased over the last couple of weeks. Grasshoppers became a major issue earlier than normal, already severely damaging hay meadows and crops. Native rangeland had yet to recover from last year's drought. Rangelands had an overgrowth of winter and spring forages and weeds. Livestock were in good condition across throughout the region.

Coastal Bend: Crops, rangeland and pastures were drying out, and rain was needed. Temperatures were above normal. Crops were growing, but not uniformly due to erratic rainfall patterns. Sorghum was rapidly maturing. Hay producers were taking second cuttings, but needed moisture for any subsequent harvests. Producers were feeding hay in pastures that were in poor condition and still overstocked.

East: Rain ranged from 0.25 inch to 4.5 inches around the region. Heavier rainfall was reported in the northern part of the district. Growing conditions were generally good. Hay harvesting was ongoing, with many producers taking their second cutting. Farmers were spraying for weeds in pastures. Grasshoppers were reported in pastures and hay fields. Vegetable growers saw increases in disease and insect damage. Feral hogs were active. Cattle were in good shape.

Far West: The region had highs in the upper 90s and lower 100s, with lows in the mid to upper 70s. With the hot, dry and windy weather, soil moisture was being rapidly depleted. Area ranchers continued to watch for grass fires. Howard County cotton farmers were busy replanting cotton that was blown out last week by high winds. Crane County reported that the new growth from perennial grasses had seeded out. Regrowth of old grasses was slow to none at all. Annual weeds were doing well, taking advantage of open ground in damaged rangeland. Pecan nuts were growing well, and alfalfa was almost ready for a second cutting. In El Paso County, cotton was at the six-leaf stage and looking very good. Winkler County reported that pastures continued to maintain green growth of weeds, shrubs and grass. However, the amount of growth was much less than desired, and most of the weed and shrub growth was from less desirable species. Sheep and goats appeared to be in great condition, but low lamb and kids production appears to be the result of last year's drought.

North: Soil moisture was adequate to surplus in most of the region thanks to recent rains, but some areas remained critically dry. Pastures improved, but corn and grain sorghum showed stressed from lack of moisture earlier. The wheat harvest continued, with some producers just finishing. Sunflowers were in full bloom, and head-moth activity was steady. Armyworms were detected on ornamental plants in Sulphur Springs. Peaches continued to look very good. Feral hogs remained a major problem. Livestock were in fair to good condition.

Panhandle: Most of the region received rain, from a trace to as much as 3 inches. Soil-moisture levels ranged from very short to surplus, with most counties reporting short to adequate. Most corn was in good condition; most sorghum fair to good. Cotton was in poor to excellent condition, with most areas reporting good to fair. About 1,000 acres of cotton was lost in Deaf Smith County to hail last week. Corn was also beaten up, but very little was a total loss. Wheat was in very poor to excellent condition, with most reported as being fair to good. The wheat harvest will be short in some counties as many acres were harvested as hay or chopped for silage. Rangeland and pastures were in very poor to excellent condition, with most reported as poor. Cattle were in good condition. Thrips were reported in cotton.

Rolling Plains: Rain fell across parts of the region. Montague County got 2 to 9 inches. Even the western counties of Dickens, Kent and King reported amounts from 2 to 4 inches. Other counties received 0.2 inch to 2 inches. More rain was needed to fill area lakes. Pastures greened up. Native-grass pastures that had been properly managed and not over-stocked during the drought were looking good. The wheat harvest was finished, and cotton planting was almost complete. Hay harvesting was under way for some, while others were waiting for more growth. Some peach varieties were beginning to ripen. Overall, the crop looked good. Pecans also looked good, with only light reports of nut case bearer. Beekeepers reported extremely light honey production despite nectar and pollen-producing flowers being in bloom. Also hives were being re-queened at a higher rate because of poor brood.

South: Hot, dry weather stressed plants, rangeland and pastures. Soil-moisture levels dropped considerably. Most counties reported short to very short soil-moisture conditions with the exception of a few counties. McMullen County reported 60 percent adequate levels; Maverick County, 40 percent adequate; and Dimmit County, 85 percent adequate. In many areas, forage production came to a standstill, raising livestock-feeding issues. However, the dry conditions benefited hay producers, allowing them to cut, cure and bale without interruptions. Cattle were in good condition. Supplemental feeding increased at larger ranching operations. In Frio County, potato harvesting and peanut planting, and heavy irrigation were all ongoing. In Jim Wells County, there were reports of failed milo and poor-performing haygrazer fields being baled or grazed early. Crops in Zavala County were again under heavy irrigation. About 60 percent of cotton crop in that county had bloomed, and later-planted corn was in the dough stage with early-planted corn fields reaching the dent stage. Also Zavala County, the cucumber harvest was completed, melons were progressing well, the onion harvest continued with good-quality yields being reported. Some webworm activity was noted by pecan producers. In Hidalgo County, vegetable harvesting continued, and sunflower harvesting was under way. In Starr County, farmers were preparing to harvest sunflowers harvesting and hay baling continued. In Willacy County, growers were harvesting sorghum.

South Plains: The region had cooler temperatures and overcast days. Most of the region received rain, from 0.2 inch to as much as 5 inches in some areas. Some hail also fell, but it was mostly light. However, some counties reported extensive damage to young cotton plants in scattered fields. Topsoil moisture levels improved. Most areas could still benefit from more rain. Some farmers were applying herbicides. Most cotton planting was finished. High winds and temperatures returned by the end of the week.

Southeast: Rain fell in many areas. Montgomery received from 1 inch to 3 inches. Fort Bend reported 2 inches. Brazoria County also had showers, with about 0.5 inch in the western part of the county. Jefferson County got up to 3 inches in some areas. Elsewhere, hot, dry conditions were drying out soils and causing pond levels to rapidly drop. Heavy weed pressure, a side effect of the 2011 drought, was holding many pastures back. Western ragweed, marshelder, bushy eryngo, and purple loosestrife were the primary problem weeds. In Chambers County, winter wheat was 100 percent harvested. Winter wheat was also 100 percent harvested.

Southwest: Hot, dry conditions continued across the district, evaporating soil moisture and causing ground to crack. Farmers finished their first cutting of hay, but were unsure whether they will get another cutting due to lack of rain. Milo was turning color. Dryland corn was extremely moisture-stressed.

West Central: Temperatures were lower, with very high humidity. Rain in many counties improved soil-moisture levels, raising them enough for planting. Cotton planting was well under way in most areas. In some areas, cotton producers were waiting for fields to dry out. Corn was in good condition. Grain sorghum looked OK, but moisture will be needed soon. Farmers continued cutting, baling hay and harvesting wheat. Much of the wheat crop was grazed out or baled for hay. Rangeland and pastures looked better after the recent rains. Warm-season grasses began to grow. Stock tanks caught some much-needed run-off. Livestock remained in good condition. Some producers had to feed hay where pastures had not yet recovered. Pecans were progressing well.