Locust plague 'could halt Melbourne Cup'
The pests threaten billions of dollars in damage and could be Australia's worst locust plague in 75 years.
Thu, Sep 16 2010 at 2:23 AM
PLAGUE: The Plague Locust Commission said it was expecting a serious widespread infestation in at least three southeastern states in coming months. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
Australia's worst locust plague in 75 years could halt the Melbourne Cup, officials warned Thursday, declaring "war" on the pests which threaten billions of dollars in damage.
Victoria state Premier John Brumby said the plague, which will devour crops and farmland across a vast area of the country, could force the cancellation of the Nov. 2 event, known as the "race that stops a nation."
"This is the biggest plague we face in 75 years, it's got the potential to destroy a quarter of our agricultural crop... it's got the potential to close events like Melbourne Cup Day and country race carnivals," Brumby said.
"We're doing everything we can to get on top of this."
Early hatchings are already being reported from egg beds up to 12 miles long, spread across an area of southeastern Australia roughly the size of Spain.
The Plague Locust Commission said it was expecting a serious widespread infestation in at least three southeastern states in coming months.
Brumby said, if unchecked, the plague could cost Victoria's agriculture sector alone $1.9 billion, devastating crops and grazing land.
"This is a war on locusts, I want to be absolutely clear about this," he said.
Victoria state officials are spraying pesticides on 1.5 million acres of public land and offering rebates for farmers who want to buy the chemicals.
Fixed-wing planes and helicopters are on standby for surveillance and spraying, while incident control centres have been opened across the state.
Millions of mice have also been devouring farmland in southeastern Australia, the nation's main food-producing region.
The 3,200-metre (two-mile) Melbourne Cup is the world's richest handicap race, and was last year won by Irish-bred Australian stayer Shocking. A record six million dollars (5.5 million US) is on offer at this year's 150th edition.
Copyright 2010 AFP Asian Edition