Farmers spray locusts in daybreak bid to protect fields

Millions of insects in huge swarm expected to take wing, migrate northwards, and wreak further havoc on crops unless checked; Negev farmer: It’s like an insect cemetery down here

Swarms of locusts seen flying over Ramat Negev on March 5, 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)
Swarms of locusts seen flying over Ramat Negev on March 5, 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

Israeli cropdusting planes and trucks sprayed a millions-strong locust swarm with pesticides on Wednesday at daybreak in an effort to cull the plague a day after it crossed into the country.

Workers from the Ministry of Agriculture sprayed four square mile area in southern Israel where the migrating insects settled on Tuesday evening, and farmers had until the sun warmed their bodies to kill them on the ground. Channel 10 estimated that Agriculture Ministry crews working on the ground and in the air had until 10 a.m. to spray the swarm before it took wing.

“It’s like an insect cemetery down here,” Omri Eytana, a farmer from Moshav Kmehin the Nitzana area, told Army Radio a little after 10. “There are [only] hundreds of locusts in the air, and they’re still spraying.” He said his tomato crops were unharmed, because they are protected under nylons covers. Potato crops in the area were badly damaged, however, he said.

Shmuel Turgeman, who heads a government-run fund that organizes insurance for farmers, said the situation was “under control.” Inspectors were out in the field gauging the scale of the damage to potatoes and other crops.

Though the locusts were moving northwards, they were not expected to reach central Israel’s major population centers because of an expected cold front which would drive the insects southward.

Southern Israel’s skies were blackened Tuesday by the wings of millions of the locusts as the largest infestation to hit the country in decades swarmed across the Egyptian border and settled to chow down on the crops of local farmers.

Local residents were instructed to stay indoors and close their windows and blinds.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and we have yet to see anything like this,” said Yankale Moskovich, a farmer from Ramat Negev.

Throughout Tuesday afternoon and evening, the Agriculture Ministry and local farming associations sprayed the fields with pesticides, from the air and from the ground, in hopes of salvaging the crops, but to no avail. The giant swarm landed on fields across the Negev and caused what farmers estimate to be hundreds of thousands of shekels in damages.

“It’s an invasion. We’re talking irrecoverable damage,” Pablo Rosenblit, a local potato farmer told Channel 2 News. “I can already see the devastation and they just landed minutes ago. This spells total crop destruction. I feel like weeping.”

“[The locusts] may not have ruined Pharaoh, but they could ruin us,” Tzachi Rimon, a farmer, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV, in a reference to the biblical story of the Ten Plagues sent to torment the ancient Egyptians and their ruler for enslaving the Jews. The story is central to the narrative of the Passover festival, celebrated later this month by Jews around the world.

Local weather conditions indicate that winds will carry additional swarms, currently in Egypt, away from Israel.

The locusts also caused damages to fields cultivated by Palestinian farmers in the Gaza Strip, and the Hamas government instructed residents on Wednesday to close their windows.

The Islamist group ruling the coastal Palestinian territory was quoted by the Chinese Xinhua news agency saying the swarms of locusts were neither big nor harmful.

Saleh Bakheet, director general of plant protection department in the Ministry of Agriculture, said in a press statement that the plague “represents no kind of danger or harms to people and plants,” and that “the situation is under full control and protection of the Ministry of Agriculture.”

A Palestinian farmer displays locusts at a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian farmer displays locusts at a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 5 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

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