Plague locust threat this year is 'minimal'

Drought puts plague locusts well on the back foot

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A locust band at Werrimull in Victoria as seen on the ground during the 2010s.

A locust band at Werrimull in Victoria as seen on the ground during the 2010s.

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Australia helps Africa combat locust crisis

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If there's any silver lining to the drought, it's the fact it has smashed the breeding opportunities of the Australian plague locust and there is little threat to this year's crops.

Breeding normally ratchets up with rain after a drought - but this time it's different.

Australian Plague Locust Commission director Chris Adriaansen said with the predicted breeding cycles there would be unlikely to be any major hatchings of plague locusts until at least early next year.

He said though there were three possible hotspots in NSW later this year, including in the Central-West, near Coonabarabran and around Lake Cargellico.

There was no supply threat to the three main pesticides used to control locusts at this stage.

Spraying plague locusts at Coonamble in 2009. Hatchings can occur anywhere in South Australia, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Spraying plague locusts at Coonamble in 2009. Hatchings can occur anywhere in South Australia, NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

Desert locust nymphs in Yemen where Australia is helping fight an outbreak from Africa to western India.

Desert locust nymphs in Yemen where Australia is helping fight an outbreak from Africa to western India.

Australia has not had a major plague locust outbreak since 2010. A plague often follows good rain out of a drought.

"We still expect it to be another two generations before we see any widespread large numbers," Mr Adriaansen said.

"We don't expect a higher density of widespread infestations until January 2021."

Mr Adriaansen said there had been an "unprecedented" dent to plague locust numbers in the last two years due to the severe drought . "The only build up has been since the rain in January."

The last major locust outbreak was in 2009-2010, when locusts hit Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

The APLC is based in Fyshwick, Canberra, with a laboratory conducting research into the pests. It has 19 staff, some based in remote areas of the four major member states.

The APLC was created in the 1970s after plague locusts decimated cropping areas in South-East Australia. It now plays not only a major role in Australia as the major line of defence against plague locusts (with aerial spraying), but also helping other nations with locust plagues.

It has been part of the effort to help control a massive plague affecting scores of countries from northern and central Africa right over to the farmlands of India.

The locusts are threatening crops in all these regions, putting the real possibility of starvation for millions of subsistence farmers in Africa. The APLC has people on the ground helping, while Mr Adriaansen visited Ethiopia to help in control measures.

A couple of APLC staff are working in Uganda and Kenya with United Nations staff, where the crisis has moved to humanitarian aid. "Unfortunately locusts are moving through and causing a fair bit of damage there."

Australia's expertise in controlling locusts was "highly respected" around the world, he said. Locusts can travel 2000km over three consecutive nights.

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