Grasshoppers and Mormon crickets are back this summer, causing considerable damage to rangelands and forage in western states. The insects cause $318 million in crop losses to alfalfa annually, according to a report by the American Farm Bureau Federation. 

Grasshopper defoliation competes with cattle and other herbivores for forage, affecting crops such as wheat and alfalfa. Soybeans and corn in the Midwest also receive considerable damage from this pest. In areas receiving less than 30 inches of annual rainfall, there is an increased likelihood of infestation, leading to substantial crop losses, said Daniel Munch, an economist at AFBF.

"Between 2019 and 2023, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) protected over 3.33 million acres across eight Western states, with 2.8 million acres treated for grasshopper control," said Munch.

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Under the Plant Protection Act of 2000, the Rangeland Grasshopper and Mormon Cricket Suppression Program by APHIS covers the cost of managing these pests on various federal and private rangelands through a cost-share model.

Western landowners in Montana face the highest risk, particularly with their alfalfa crops. In 2023, $7.7 million in crop insurance indemnities were paid for crops lost to insects.

In Modoc County, California, the highest amount of damage was recorded, with over $52 million in grasshopper-related crop losses. The county saw alfalfa yields decrease from 6.4 to 4.48 tons per acre, with additional losses in grain and hay production, according to the county's agricultural commissioner.

This issue is intensified in western lands, where almost 10% of farmers are affected. “Swarms aren’t quite as big as they were in the 1800s, but grasshoppers and Mormon crickets remain a persistent risk to agriculture,” Munch said.

Correction: Updated version reflects that $318 million of crop losses was estimated for alfalfa alone. 

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