Utah legislators have gathered to push a new bill that will guide the way that farmers and emergency workers will be able to respond to Mormon cricket infestations – as well as emergencies involving other plant pests – across the state.
In a report published earlier this week, KSL confirmed that legislators at the State House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee approved a new measure on Tuesday that will see them establish the Plant Pest Fund, which will draw funds from state coffers, to help affected farmers, as the state works to respond to Mormon cricket infestation emergencies.
Tackling a Growing Concern
The bill, which was titled HB398, was chiefly sponsored by Rep. Derrin Owens, a Republican from Fountain Green. Under its provisions, the state Food and Agriculture Department will be given greater financial leeway to battle infestation by plant pests and protect farmland owners. This is necessitated by the reported rise in the discoveries of harmful fungi and foreign snails found across the state.
Robert Hougaard, the Director of the Agriculture Department’s plant industry section, reportedly explained that current Utah laws only limit the agency’s scope to treating plant species. With this new legislation passed, they will be able to expand their scope to include other pests too.
Under the new bill, the Plant Pest Fund will have a ceiling of $10 million, while the Department will be able to spend up to $300,000 a year to eradicate any plant pests found. Owens added that the fund would grow over time, thus improving the agency’s ability to respond to emergencies and threats as well.
Mormon crickets themselves have become more of a problem for states other than Utah. According to a report from NRVN-TV, the insects have now started to spread across Nevada, too, with the Nevada Department of Agriculture recently confirming some of the earliest hatchings in years.
Mormon crickets are grasshopper-like insects that, according to Agriculture Department entomologist Jeff Knight, pose a threat to both drivers and plants. Knight recommended that homeowners should start taking positive action against the insects by building fences around their houses and farmlands.
Government Takes Agricultural Rehabilitation Seriously
The promotion of this bill also underscores the proactive action taken by various government agencies to the issue of pest and disease prevention. On March 2, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would be allocating funds to Nebraska under Section 7721 of the Plant Protection Act as part of its efforts to strengthen the country’s response infrastructure to plant pest and disease issues.
In general, the Department confirmed that it would be allocating $70 million to help address pest and disease issues across 48 States, The District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. The funds will be allocated to about 390 relief projects to strengthen the country’s agricultural infrastructure and protect the U.S. nursery production system.
However, Nebraska has been singled out as a priority for the Department.
“Nebraska is a critical partner in protecting U.S. agriculture. Through these projects, Nebraska will be able to protect its resources better, and contribute to USDA’s mission of keeping our nation’s agriculture economy healthy and strong,” the Department said through Under Secretary Greg Ibach.