North Coast Farmers Beset By Invasive Army Worms

FERNDALE – While late spring rains were seen as a great sign for the long term drought, they also led to a flood of invasive insects.

Armyworms have taken over farms in the Eel River Valley and across the North Coast. The caterpillars live in the ground during the day then come out in the evening to eat corn crops and pastures that dairy farmers rely on to feed their cattle.

Andy Titus runs a few hundred cows at his ranch along the Eel River in Fernbridge. In a typical year, Titus’s cows feed on those pastures for five months from April to September. This year however, Titus is already supplementing with purchased feed, costing the farm thousands.

Organic Dairy Farmer Andy Titus said, “Most people either own their ranch or they’re paying rent but that’s a cost that you already have. So this time of the year is the time of year when farmers normally make their money because they’re not out spending extra money on feed. And I don’t know a single farmer that’s not having to supplement their cattle to keep them fed.”

Browned grass in local pastures indicates the presence of armyworms, but the insect’s origin is still somewhat mysterious. They are believed to lay dormant for up to ten years then become active during extreme rainy seasons like last winter.

North Coast Field Rep for Western United Dairymen Melissa Lema says that organic and biological controls can cost $5,200 per acre. And those treatments aren’t even effective given the rate at which armyworms multiply.

Lema says that it’s important for farmers to document impacts of the infestation.

“We need to make sure that we account for all the losses so do some documentation, take a couple photos, take some records on what your pasture grazing days and maybe your hay yields were in previous years and compare that to this year with the armyworm activity,” Lema said. “Let the Ag Commissioner know and he is working towards declaring a secretarial disaster designation for the county.”