Alberta could face grasshopper 'blowout' this summer if drought continues

Alberta has battled hail, fire and floods in the past few years — and now could face another plague that seems drawn straight out of the Bible: an explosion of grasshoppers.

Insect expert says conditions are prime for big, hungry hoppers to feed on crops

Cold blooded grasshoppers grow faster the warmer it gets, says agriculture consultant and entomologist, Mike Dolinski. (Touterse/Flickr)

Alberta has battled hail, fire and floods in the past few years — and now could face another plague that seems drawn straight out of the Bible: an explosion of grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers, the bouncy cousins of swarming locusts, are thriving thanks to a dry winter and an early, warm spring.

"I can even see grasshoppers jumping around my yard and I live in the city," said Edmonton-based agricultural consultant and retired provincial entomologist, Mike Dolinski.

He said the cold-blooded insects metabolize and grow faster in the heat — so, if the hot and dry weather persists, farmers could be fighting off some hungry insects this summer.

"If they're starving under drought conditions, they will move en masse across roads or hayfield towards crop."

Grasshoppers and locusts are close cousins, but locusts are more likely to migrate and travel long distances.

Dolinkski told the Calgary Eyeopener on Monday that he hasn't seen a province-wide "blowout in hoppers" in about 25 years thanks to advances in agriculture which keep the soil damp and cool — something they dislike.

But he said that may not be enough to stop the hoppers this summer because Alberta hasn't experienced a lot of precipitation in the last two years.

"Alberta is by far under greatest risk of a grasshopper problem going forward, compared to, say, Manitoba and Saskatchewan."

He said canola crops are particularly vulnerable to the insects.

A mild winter and prolonged dry weather could mean that a grasshopper infestation is coming to Alberta. Entomologist Mike Dolinski explains why farmers should be concerned.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener