Cattle station 'smashed' by grasshoppers

Western Queensland smashed by grasshoppers in wake of flood


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Riley and Elke Robertson returned from boarding school to see the ground swallowed by grasshoppers. Photo: Netta Robertson

Riley and Elke Robertson returned from boarding school to see the ground swallowed by grasshoppers. Photo: Netta Robertson

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Grasshoppers have chewed up the promise of greener pastures.

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Pete Robertson and his family watched in disbelief as the fresh pasture growing through after years of drought started vanishing before their eyes.

In April a wave of grasshoppers chewed through about 14,164 hectares of pasture at the Orielton cattle station near Hughenden, which was looking gorgeous and green after the long-awaited rain in February.

"They just smashed us," Mr Robertson said.

"I've lived here all my life and we've had hoppers come and go and locusts come and go, but I've never seen them do this before.

"It's a first for me. It was so quick. We went from having good, standing feed, and then it was gone."

Mr Robertson from the Crown Cattle Company has been running purebred Wagyu cattle on Orielton as part of his beef enterprise.

The damage done by the grasshoppers has forced him to sell about 1000 head after years of nursing the herd through the drought with lick and hay.

"We've been dry out there since 2013, doing what we can to keep breeding numbers up for the past few years and spending a fortune on hay and lick," Mr Robertson said.

Luckily, an organic beef producer down the road at Muttaburra had put their hand up to buy around half of the cattle from the Orielton property.

The grasshoppers were first spotted by Mr Robertson's young son, who rushed back to the homestead to alert his dad.

"My son had been out in the paddock and came back to the house saying I had to go out for a drive to see it.

"He said we had nothing left."

The economic loss of the grasshopper damage at Orielton could be as high as $1 million.

Although there was some pick growing back through at the property, the Robertsons might have to wait for the summer rains to roll back around to see the pasture recover.

"There are some green shoots coming through," Mr Robertson said.

"But it's cooled off and without another rain event I can't see us growing much more grass.

"We might get a little bit of colour through it and some pick and potentially, with the moisture in the ground, we might get some shoots when it warms up in spring."

Producers are mostly on their own when it comes to combatting and recovering from grasshopper damage, with Mr Robertson saying there was no choice but to roll with the punches.

"Now we are selling cattle again," he said.

"We thought we had enough for them, but here we are selling again.That's life. We'll roll with it."

One of the decimated paddocks two weeks after the grasshoppers hatched.

One of the decimated paddocks two weeks after the grasshoppers hatched.

Mr Robertson grew up in the region but said he had never seen damage as bad as that caused by the grasshoppers recently.

"There were hoppers in the region back in 1997, but they were nowhere near as bad as this.

"There were still some out there not so long ago, but most of them have died now."

There have been reports of extensive grasshopper damage in isolated areas between Muttaburra, Winton, Julia Creek and Hughenden.

Numbers surge but no need for alarm

A surge in grasshopper numbers towards the end of April has caused substantial damage to paddocks in strips of western and north western Queensland.

A Biosecurity Queensland spokesman said there had been a boom in grasshopper populations concentrated around Longreach and Winton.

"An upsurge in grasshopper numbers is quite normal in response to favourable seasonal conditions and as these populations appear quite localised, there is no requirement for a response at this stage," the spokesman said.

"Both Biosecurity Queensland and the Australian Plague Locust Commission will continue to monitor the situation."

An aerial view of green pasture coming through on Orielton station before the grasshoppers.

An aerial view of green pasture coming through on Orielton station before the grasshoppers.

In its April bulletin, the Australian Plague Locust Commission noted grasshoppers had caused "substantial" damage to pasture in a stretch between Muttaburra and Winton.

The Australian Plague Locust Commission monitors locust numbers and manages populations that have the potential to cause substantial damage spreading across state borders.

The commission does not manage grasshopper populations.

Locusts and grasshoppers look the same but locusts behave differently, forming devastating migratory swarms when their populations reach a high density.

This swarming, migratory behaviour can wreak havoc on pasture and crops across large tracts of land.

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