Heading west? Don’t wear green!

Heading west? Don’t wear green!

Although the title is light-hearted, JULIE GRIEG warns that New South Wales’ locust threat is anything but a laughing matter.

Most of the state is looking great. After ten years of drought, good rains are continuing to fall regularly, crops are growing well and there’s lots of feed for livestock.

But now locusts are hatching and anxiety is building about how much damage they will cause in what is predicted to be the worse plague for 30 years.
Locust occurrence depends entirely on weather and feed conditions.

In New South Wales, hatching typically begins in September in the north through to October in the south, with maturity of locusts occurring in November and December. Eggs laid by this generation of adults will hatch in late December and throughout January, producing a second generation of adults in February and March.

These adults may lay eggs and, depending on conditions, they may hatch before winter in April and May or lay dormant until the following September–October.
About three weeks after the eggs hatch the nymphs form together in bands and march across the ground, eating everything in their path. It is at this stage that control is most effective as they can easily be sprayed.

At approximately six weeks the locust are ready to take to the wing and swarm. They are then blown by the winds across the state and into Victoria. Once they are at this stage they are almost impossible to control as it’s not practical to spray them in the air.

At the adult stage they do a lot more damage to crops and pastures and also lay their eggs.

For farms in their path they can wipe out ripening crops and completely destroy pastures, leaving the ground bare. A swarm covering one kilometre could eat up to ten tonnes of vegetation in a day.

So what should be our response as the Uniting Church?

The rural chaplains, with presbytery disaster contact people, have planned the following:

  • A meeting has been held with Industry & Investment New South Wales, Department of Primary Industries, to talk about the best way for the Rural Chaplains Network, comprising chaplains from all the denominations, to be part of the locust response.
  • Writing some special liturgies and prayers that congregations can use.
  • Preparing material for children.
  • A website has been set up at www.locustinfo.blogspot.com. This will have the latest information on what is happening, links to more information, prayer points and so on. We are encouraging congregations who are experiencing locusts to write their stories here and churches in urban areas to response to these. We hope it might become a way of keeping people informed and linking prayer partners.

What can you do?

  • Pray specifically that the weather will not be conducive to large hatchings and that landholders and others will be vigilant and find the locust while they are still on the ground.
  • Pray for those organising the state-wide response that they might have wisdom to make the right decisions.
  • Pray for those in the bush who are feeling very anxious. Many farmers are reporting egg beds in their paddocks and others know from past experience that the winds will bring the locusts to them.
  • Pray for your rural chaplains as they help guide the response from the Uniting Church.
  • Keep up-to-date with what is happening and respond to stories on the website when churches write of their experiences.
  • If you are travelling in the bush and come across a band of locusts then ring the hotline on 1800 814 647.

If you would like to read more about the locusts, you can find comprehensive but readable information on the Industry and Investment site: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/agriculture/pests-weeds/insects/locusts. This site has predicted hatching dates, maps and fact sheets etc. You can also sign up for email updates.

Julie Greig is Rural Chaplain for the Synod of New South wales and the ACT.

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