Drought, fires, mice, floods … and mice again?

Key points:

  • Floods will impact mouse populations, but they are capable of swimming to safety
  • With plenty of grain set to be left in paddocks during harvest, there are fears numbers will explode
  • Farmers are having to clean out mice from header sieves

Farmers have been through it all in recent years and memories of mice crawling through houses and destroying crops are still very fresh in the minds of regional communities.

Now there are fears that conditions are ripe for numbers to explode again.

The wet harvest means plenty of grain is expected to be left in the paddocks this year, with many crops impacted by heavy rain.

It means mice are unlikely to go hungry, despite flooding in some parts of the country.

‘Very good swimmers’

CSIRO researcher Steve Henry said while floods did set mouse populations back, it did not take long for the pests to recover.

“They’re very good swimmers,” he said.

“They’re incredibly resilient little critters and they can swim out of quite a bit of water and get themselves to safety and then re-establish when the water goes down.”

Mr Henry said reports on numbers were patchy, but in recent weeks mice had been found in about 30 per cent of traps set in paddocks.

“What we’re saying to people is they need to be really vigilant through the stubble phase of the crop,” he said.

A farmer in a paddock.

Walbundrie farmer Chris Collins expects to have to undertake a significant baiting program ahead of sowing next year.(Supplied: Chris Collins)

Plague could cost $1b

NSW Farmers Association vice-president Xavier Martin said considering the additional costs, missed opportunities and crop losses, this year’s plague could have cost the sector close to $1 billion across the state.

But he warned next year could be worse.

“The headers … they’re leaving lots of food behind for mice to feed on and to breed on and therein lies the problem, similar to earlier this year, where we had explosion of numbers in the autumn,” Mr Martin said.

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Mice cleaned out of headers

Walbundrie farmer Chris Collins said he was having to clean out dozens of mice from his header sieves this harvest.

“We’re sort of having to clean them out every 40 hectares,” Mr Collins said.

Mr Collins said he was surprised by the numbers, given the baiting program earlier in the year.

“We didn’t actually have any crop damage during sowing because we baited twice,” Mr Collins said.

“We thought we must have knocked the numbers around quite a bit.

“But in saying that, they’ve come back and are probably worse … which is a worry going forward.”

Mice gathering in a grain shed.

Farmers are being warned there could be another mouse plague next year.(ABC New England North West: Donal Sheil)

Bio-control for future plagues

A recent report from the Centre of Invasive Species Solutions found the cost of damage caused by invasive species in Australia was conservatively estimated at $25b a year.

Chief executive officer Andreas Glanznig said there had been a huge investment in biological controls for mice.

“That’s the game-changer Australia is looking for,” Mr Glanznig said.

“Mice are absolutely prolific breeders that respond to the good times.

“Improved monitoring with better forecasting with the [Grains Research and Development Corporation] and CSIRO should help, as well as the NSW government’s investment to look at … genetic bio-control technology.

Farmers clear mice out of headers amid fears second plague looming
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