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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Mormon cricket sightings in Millard County have been reported to the state Department of Agriculture, which is bracing for what could be the state's largest infestation on record.
The sightings at Meadow and Kanosh mark the beginning of the infestation season, said Larry Lewis, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.
Officials are predicting 2.8 million acres will be infested this summer, primarily in the west-central area of the state. Tooele, Juab and Millard counties are expected to be hit particularly hard.
However, Lewis said there is hope for more effective ways of battling the insect, which is not a true cricket but instead is a type of katydid.
Technology is improving and pesticides are being applied faster and more accurately with the use of GPS technology. Researchers are working on more economical ways of killing the insects.
Utah has $350,000 budgeted for cricket control, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been authorized to spend about $5 million, Lewis said.
The state also has given a $100,000 grant to Utah State University to study alternative methods of killing the insects -- something that doesn't involve pesticides.
"Once they hatch and mature, there's the potential for them to spread out again, and the (infested) acreage gets larger unless we do something to kill them," Lewis said. "There are still large numbers, but we're seeming to make a dent in their populations -- at least a dent in the increase of their population -- thanks to technology."
It's a far cry from the technology Mormon pioneers relied upon when settling outside the Salt Lake Valley. In the mid-1800s, seagulls were the source of rescue for pioneer crops.
For private landowners, the state will pay half the cost of applying pesticides,
The eradication involves distributing pesticide-laced bundles of oat and wheat. There are seven stages to the cricket's life cycle, and different pesticides need to be used at different times.
"There's no way you're going to eradicate them, but you need to be in the mode of protecting populated areas and farmland," Lewis said. "You need to try to spread a buffer zone between the crops and the crickets."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)