Grasshoppers in Clay County
October 8, 2020
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As in the rest of the area, outbreaks of the Rocky Mountain Locust devastated crops in Clay County between 1874 and 1876. Huge swarms of the pests swept through the area eating crops, grass, trees – even laundry hung on lines. Farmers tried burning, plowing, capturing and stomping the hoppers but nothing seemed to work. Eventually they disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Ironically, the trillions of Rocky Mountain Locusts which caused so much damage are now extinct.
But five other hopper species have given local farmers fits. The hot, dry years of the 1930s proved perfect breeding environments for the bugs. Between 1932 and 1939 the hoppers caused millions of dollars in crop damage in Clay County.
However, this time farmers had an effective weapon – poison. Workers mixed wheat bran, molasses and saw dust with water and sodium arsenate and spread it on fields just as the hoppers hatched. The insects ate the sweetened bran and died by the billions.
The arsenic used was hazardous, causing respiratory problems, skin damage, and much worse. Unfortunately many farmers mixed and spread this grasshopper poison by hand, with little if any personal protection. Sodium arsenate was later outlawed for these purposes. In the 1980s the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discovered 18,000 pounds of arsenic still stored on a half dozen Clay County farms. The poison was removed to a hazardous waste disposal site.