Bug collecting at Lake Tschida helps farmers control noxious weeds

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GRANT COUNTY, N.D. - Sometimes the best way to fight nature is with nature. Farmers looking to control noxious weeds, without just spraying chemical after chemical, have a six-legged option.

Normally when you see a bug in the garden it's not a good thing.

About 150 farmers went to Lake Tschida on Thursday. They're sweeping for leafy spurge beetles to control the weed back on their own property.

“Cattle do not like it, they will avoid it at pretty much all costs,” said Rick Schmidt, Oliver County extension agent.

“If you have a dense patch of leafy spurge, that's pretty much 100 percent detriment to that area,” said Cody Schnabel, Morton County’s weed control officer.

When they're free, they only purge the spurge.

"They do extensive studies with these bio-controls and this was one done a long time ago and they didn't find this species to eat any other types of crop,” said Schnabel.

Farmers have used leafy spurge beetles for more than 20 years. But the story of a bug's life in North Dakota is unusual.

"We had phenomenal success of these bugs wiping out acres and acres of leafy spurge and basically almost eradicating it. And that worked extremely well for about 10 years. Then we went into a cycle where something might have changed in the biology of the insects and we haven't been seeing the numbers as well as what we did in the late 90s, early 2000s,” said Schmidt.

The bugs are gathered up, about 2,000 per site, separated, and handed off to farmers for them to take back to their land. There, they'll get about 30-45 days of weed control out of them. Then the bugs will lay larva underground and start the cycle again next year.

Schanbel says they captured 750,000 beetles, far more than the 400,000 goal.