CANADA

A plague on all their houses

DALE EISLER August 10 1981
CANADA

A plague on all their houses

DALE EISLER August 10 1981

A plague on all their houses

It has been a year Wesley Robinson would like to forget, but likely never will. From a hill overlooking his 1,600-acre farm near Harris, Sask., 53-year-old Robinson can see the stark remains left by a ravenous plague of grasshoppers. More than 1,200 acres of oats, wheat and rye have been devoured by the voracious hordes which have feasted since they hatched last spring. The damage, Robinson estimates, will cost him $70,000—a figure that could climb even higher should the orthopteran insects* infest what little remains of his crop. “The bad thing is that there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it,” mutters Robinson. “Crop insurance

*Thefour main species of grasshoppers afoot or in flight around Harris are the shorthorned Migratory, Two-Striped, Packard's and Clearwinged.

DALE EISLER

sent a man by about a month ago and he said to save my money and stop spraying because we were beat and it was too late to do any good. You look out there and can’t help but get a hopeless feeling.”

Not even six weeks of spraying with malathion in the spring and early summer managed to stem the hoppers which, at their worst, dined 10 deep: their death throes beneath Robinson’s boots are best left undescribed. He sprayed a 160-acre wheat field four times, trying to stop the infiltration, but now the same field lies barren. The local municipality even held a meeting to consider spraying the entire area by aircraft, but couldn’t afford the $l-million-plus price tag. Even pleas for help from the provincial agriculture department in Regina drew blanks. Says Robinson: “When we tried to get hold of

someone in government with authority,

they were all on holidays and all we got

were their helpers.” If it is any consolation, Robinson knows he is not alone. His farm is part of an 80,000-acre strip running through the west-central part of the province west of Saskatoon where sparse rains and high temperatures have encouraged the grasshopper advance. While most other parts of the province are gearing up for an aboveaverage harvest, farmers in the 36 stricken townships will consider themselves lucky to recoup their costs through crop insurance.

At the blight’s peak no fewer than 40 billion grasshoppers were at table in the Harris district and the males’ thoughts were turning to the satisfaction of even more loathsome appetites. Thereafter, each female will lay as many as 300 eggs—scheduled to hatch next spring. If the weather then is to the offspring’s liking, Robinson and his woebegone neighbors can anticipate far worse than what God visited upon the ancient Egyptians more than 3,000 years ago. -DALE EISLER