BRIGHAM CITY, Utah (AP) -- This year's cool, wet spring and some aggressive spraying are expected to significantly reduce Mormon cricket infestations this year.
Larry Lewis of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food said the cooler weather delayed the hatching of cricket eggs, many of which then decayed in the wet weather in April and May.
Earlier, officials had predicted 2.8 million acres would be infested this summer.
"A best-case scenario is the number will be cut in half," Lewis said. "We're hedging because the year's not over ... but at this point, we're looking like half."
Spraying in places such as the Grouse Creek area of Box Elder County also has helped.
For the first time, the state and federal agriculture departments sprayed about 35,000 acres that have been a hot spot each of the last several years.
The spraying was funded by a $10,000 donation from an anonymous farmer.
"We've knocked down some numbers, and the weather has cooperated," Lewis said.
Darrell Nielsen, a cattle rancher who owns 60,000 acres near Grouse Creek, much of which was sprayed, agreed that it's too soon to tell how bad the crickets will be this year.
He said this year's first cutting has yielded almost twice as much hay as last year's, in part due to fewer crickets.
However, workers recently spotted three large bunches of the insects about a mile west of his crops.
"They're not completely gone. No way," Nielsen said. "If they come straight east, they'll hit us bad."
Still, Nielsen said thanks to weather conditions and the spraying, he feels he and other farmers in the area will be"a lot better off than in 2004, when 276,000 acres in Box Elder County were infested.
Mormon crickets, also known as flightless katydids, can destroy 40 to 50 percent of the vegetation in their paths and travel up to 50 miles in a season.
Utah State University Extension Agent Clark Israelsen said in addition to Box Elder County, areas in Utah that tend to be hardest hit by Mormon crickets include Juab, Tooele and Millard counties.
Tilling soil tends to destroy eggs and those four counties have a lot of uncultivated rangeland.
"It's a great place for crickets to multiply," Israelsen said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)