Locust plague Hits Australia

EXCELLENT growing conditions have raised the prospect of the best winter crops ever harvested in NSW, valued at $2.8 billion.

But the looming threat of “biblical” numbers of locusts ravaging an area the size of Spain remains a huge headache for rural communities in three states.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan says the “terrific” rain since the start of 2010, including the wettest August in seven years, has slashed the amount of the state in drought from 7.1 per cent in August to 4.2 per cent.

Three quarters of the state is now enjoying “satisfactory” locust breading conditions.

Only part of the far southeast of the state, around Cooma, and an area of New England, in the north, remain in drought, a new state government map shows.

“It’s certainly looking at the moment (like) the best crops in over a decade,” Mr Whan told reporters in Sydney today.

“With the productivity we get off the land in these sort of situations they could be among the best crops ever.”

But locusts could still dash hopes, he said.

Weather conditions during harvest time would also dictate yields.

“We’re looking at the worst (locust) plague in 30 years so … I guess it’s biblical proportions when we talk about pests.”

It was impossible to eliminate the locusts entirely, Mr Whan added.

But resources including surveillance aircraft and sprays are being deployed to fight them.

The NSW Farmers Association said last week it believed an area the size of Spain, spread across southern Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, could be affected by the locusts.

Victorian Premier John Brumby said on Thursday the locusts had the potential to interfere with the Melbourne Cup.

“They are very concerned about it,” Mr Whan admitted.

The current winter crop in NSW was valued at $2.8 billion, Mr Whan said.

But the locusts had the potential to bring that value down, if not tackled properly.

A one kilometre swarm of locusts could munch its way through 10 tonnes of crop a day, he said.

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