By Shelley Gardner
A 150-year-old problem in Utah is back this spring and is significantly worse than recent years.
Mormon crickets hatched early this year, and the 2003 summer prediction of infestations does not look good for farmers.
Because of the mild winter and warm temperatures this spring, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture”s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Services, estimate this summer crickets and grasshopper infestation in Utah will cover between 5 to 6 million acres of croplands, gardens, landscaping, and lawns – double last year”s infestation in the state.
In 1997, the crickets and grasshoppers only infested 23,000 acres.
The last six years have been progressively more severe because of the drought.
The Mormon crickets hatched during the first week of March this year – much earlier than normal because of the warm weather.
The crickets are not very detrimental to crops until they reach adult stages, 60-90 days after hatching.
Beginning in mid-May, the adult crickets will begin their devastation on Utah croplands.
The crickets concentrate in the fields of Utah”s most profitable crops: alfalfa, corn, oats, wheat, rye, and barley.
They can”t fly but over the course of a summer the crickets can move up to 50 miles, destroying crops all along the way.
The effects can be economically devastating to a farmer or rancher, according to Mike Pace, a Utah State University Extension Agent.
The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food splits the cost of applying insect control bait with private property owners.
The Utah Legislature allocated $280,000 this year to the UDAF for the purpose of controlling this pest problem on state and private land.
Usually farmers apply the poisoned bait along the perimeter of their fields to reduce the number of crickets invading.
State regulators along apply bait along roadsides to reduce the risk of car accidents when large numbers of crickets cross the highways.
The Mormon cricket really isn”t even a cricket.
It is a shieldbacked katydid that can grow to nearly three inches in length.
Grasshoppers and Mormon crickets love the vast, undisturbed conditions of many parts of Utah.
This terrain, dominated by sagebrush, makes a perfect breeding and hatching ground for the insects, according to the USU Extension Center and the Bureau of Land Management.
Tooele, Millard, Juab, and Box Elder counties are usually the hardest hit areas of the state during years of high cricket infestation.
According to the Utah Bureau of Land Management, Mormon crickets have adapted to a wide range of temperatures and precipitation levels, so it is hard to stop an outbreak with short periods of rain, snow, or freezing temperature.
Those conditions need to be present for prolonged periods of time.
Predators to Mormon crickets always help to slow them down.
Some of the most common predators are: hawks, crows, rodents, and obviously – seagulls.