AGRICULTURE WA started its locust control program last week amid claims that it may have missed the boat in some areas. Aerial spraying as part of the agency's $8.5 million program has begun in the shires of Mukinbudin and Esperance, which will be the first of an expected 500,000 hectares to be sprayed at government cost. The focus has been to treat locusts while still in the hopper stage and where there is potential for the formation of large, high-density swarms. But farmers in the Mukinbudin area are already reporting crop damage from the mobile hoppers, with reports that some areas of crop have been sprayed three times to control the pests. WA Farmers Federation vice-president and Wialki farmer Rob Meney said, while Agriculture WA had been well prepared for the locust outbreak, spraying should have started about two weeks ago. "I have been impressed by Agriculture WA's preparation and we are in a far better position than we were 10 years ago during the last locust plague," he said. "But in this area, the locusts are up and walking into the crops, and I think we have been monitoring and counting for too long. "I think they are going to have to spray a much larger area than they might have anticipated." Mr Meney said, as a consequence, some growers now felt funds would have been better directed toward subsidising chemicals for farmers, rather than aerial spray applications by the agency. He said some locusts were now on the wing. But Agriculture WA is sticking to its strategy and, according to Locust Taskforce technical co-ordinator Kevin Walden, timing of treatment has been determined for effective control. "As the insecticide has to come into contact with the locust to destroy them, it is essential that the majority of them have hatched," he said. "There is no use going too early, as you will only have to respray the areas again." Mr Walden said that was the reason Agriculture WA had waited until the locusts had reached at least the third instar stage of development, when they were bigger than 10mm long, which was an indication the majority of the hatching had been completed. For that reason, the decision to start control was based on the maturity of locusts, as opposed to the number of properties reporting hatchings. Formal monitoring is now underway in the Merredin, Quairading, Bruce Rock, Kellerberrin and Corrigin shires. Meanwhile, a "Seasonal Solutions" hotline number, 1800 803 939, has been established by Primary Industry Minister Monty House's Seasonal Committee, which was established to manage a co-ordinated approach to assisting farming communities to face the challenges of poor seasonal conditions. The hotline will be a vital resource for anyone wanting to source a variety of information, including agronomic, financial and social issues.