The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District has called a public meeting for today (Thursday, July 13, 2017) at 3 p.m. at their office to discuss the armyworm infestation that has hit the Alberni Valley. Phil Croteau and Graham Fowler from the Ministry of Agriculture are in the Alberni Valley today investigating the infestation first hand.
Beaver Creek farmer John Oosterom spotted what looked like caterpillars in a hay field on his 200-acre farm on Friday. He could see the devastation happening: millions of what have now been identified as armyworms were eating his livelihood, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
In two days, a 10-acre hay field was leveled.
Oosterom said he’s never seen anything like it. “Talking to other farmers in the neighbourhood who are my seniors, they’ve never seen anything like it either,” he added.
“My parents came here in the mid-50s and we’ve been farming here,” he said while driving between hay fields. Much of the property was timber when they first arrived, and the family—Oosterom also has a couple of brothers who helped at the farm—cleared the land. They used to have dairy cows, but now Oosterom has a modest, 50-60-head beef cattle business.
And he grows hay. He sells it to other farmers as well as uses it to feed his cattle.
He’s not sure what the damage will be at the end of the season, but admits it will be significant. The pests have already taken two hay fields, and he was forced to plow one early. The 10-acre field would have yielded about 800 bales of hay.
“There’s nothing to mow here,” he said. “It’s at least half my annual crop.
“This is absolutely devastating.”
Someone came to his farm on Tuesday and took samples of the caterpillars to try and identify them.
“Ministry of Agriculture staff suspect they are armyworms and are working with their federal colleagues to confirm the species of samples taken from the Port Alberni area,” a ministry spokesperson said earlier this week.
The Comox Valley is also experiencing armyworms.
Oosterom said he hasn’t been given any information on how to effectively treat armyworm yet. He doesn’t spray pesticide on his crops and hopes he can find a better answer than that.
“The provincial entomologist has been in touch with her counterparts in Manitoba for support,” BC Ministry of Agriculture entomologist Susanna Acheampong noted in a statement. Farmers are encouraged to check their crops and if they find what they suspect is armyworms, to call Acheampong at 250-861-7681 for proper identification and confirmation.
Armyworms are common in Manitoba, where according to Manitoba Agriculture, they feed on oats, wheat, fall rye, barley, forage grasses and field and sweet corn. Adults are moths that do not overwinter in the province, but move in from the south, and in some years can get to levels that can cause economic damage to crops.
Oosterom said he doesn’t know where the armyworms came from. “I know I’m not alone with this problem.”
Farmers aren’t the only ones noticing the armyworms. Carole Nielsen from South Port said she found them in her backyard garden. “They are in my planters eating my petunias and are eating the leaves off my azalea bush,” she said. “I’ve killed about a dozen so far.”
Another person responding to a post on the Alberni Valley News’ Facebook page said they have been spotted in Tofino as well.