Strikeforce of 400 to fight war on locusts

Posted by Josette Dunn on 9th July 2010

Incident control centres staffed by a rolling strikeforce of up to 400 specially trained staff will be established across Victoria under a $43.5 million Victorian Government strategy to tackle what experts predict could be the biggest locust plague in the last 75 years.

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At Epsom north of Bendigo today, Premier John Brumby announced that Horsham, Mildura, Swan Hill, Tatura and Bendigo were the planned incident control centres sites for the war on locusts with a statewide incident control centre to also be established.

“Our Government is taking action to support farmers to fight a forecast locust plague which has the potential to cost Victoria’s agricultural sector $2 billion if left untreated,” Mr Brumby said.

“The advice of leading scientists indicates the scale of the spring outbreak could be as bad as we experienced in 1973 and 1974 when locusts swarmed through much of Victoria. Prior to that the last outbreak of this scale was in 1934 so we could be facing a once-in-a-lifetime locust plague.

“We are not waiting. We are taking the necessary steps now so that when the locusts hatch, we are ready to act to protect Victoria’s horticulture, livestock and dairy industries.

“There is a relatively short time span of a few weeks when immature hoppers are most vulnerable to chemical spraying. That’s why it’s vital we have trained staff in key locations to work with communities during this critical period to reduce the impact of locusts.”

The locust strategy outlines a 100 per cent rebate to farmers to meet the costs of locust-spraying chemicals, incident control centres, the lease of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters to aerial spray and a major awareness campaign. The Premier will also chair a locust taskforce of four ministers.

At any one time there is likely to be three active incident control centres activated, determined by the geographical spread of locust hatchings. Staff will comprise DPI staff and contractors and will be responsible for locust surveillance, reporting and control activities in each region.

Depending on the locust spread Department of Primary Industries (DPI) offices at Kerang, Birchip, Hopetoun, Echuca, Castlemaine, St Arnaud, Maryborough, Ararat, Edenhope and Cobram and DPI depots at Ouyen and Piangil are also potential field office sites.

The Australian Locust Plague has also today been declared an exotic pest which will give DPI staff the ability to inspect and act on locusts on private land under exceptional circumstances.

“We are confident the landholders will do the right thing and spray locusts on their property but given the scale of the threat it’s appropriate to cover every possible scenario, such as when a landholder is away,” Mr Brumby said.

Mr Brumby said if locusts were allowed to hatch and swarm on a widespread scale, there were wide-ramifications beyond the agriculture sector including the closure of regional airports, cancellation of spring racing carnival events, damage to recreation reserves and parks and gardens, the cancellation or postponement of community events and road safety concerns.

Guidelines for the rebate for purchasing locust-spraying chemicals will be released this month.