Mouse plague may be coming

By Country News

Grain farmers in parts of Australia are battling a mouse infestation that some put at plague proportions.

However, Goulburn Valley growers believe it is not at that level here yet, but it could be on its way.

Rural Victoria, South Australia and southern NSW were experiencing areas of significantly higher mouse activity than normal, CSIRO researcher Steve Henry said.

‘‘It’s quite patchy in its nature but some of those areas that are affected would be calling it a plague,’’ Mr Henry said.

‘‘You’ve got cases where farmers are putting on multiple applications of mouse bait and even after they’ve done that, they’re having to resow areas of crop that have been taken by mice.’’

Mr Henry said some farmers believed the abundance of mice is similar to the mouse plague of 2010-11.

Shepparton’s Solar City Pest Control director and operator Nathan East warned the South Australian mice infestation could be coming to Victoria.

‘‘South Australia have already gone through a plague which is coming our way,’’ Mr East said.

A bumper harvest and heavy rainfall last year created ample food, in grain left on the ground, and cover, particularly in cereal stubbles, for mice.

‘‘A single pair of mice can give rise to 500 offspring in breeding season and in conditions like this the breeding season goes for longer because conditions are favourable — lots of food and shelter,’’ Mr Henry said.

WB Hunters Shepparton sales manager Craig McQualter said early on in the season, mice could do the most damage.

‘‘If they chew a crop on emergence it can do a lot of damage,’’ Mr McQualter said.

‘‘Just as you have a drought or a flood — this is just another challenge farmers have to face.’’

Mr Henry, who has been surveying mouse activity for a Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded project, said breeding should slow down coming into winter if conditions were cold and wet.

‘‘But if the winter stays mild and there’s still food in the system, we would expect a larger number of mice than normal survive through the winter and then they could be breeding from quite a high base at the start of next spring,’’ he said.

The MouseAlert monitoring project has been predicting significant damage during sowing in South Australia and parts of Victoria.

Mr Henry said they would have a better understanding of the scale and impact of this year’s outbreak after a mid-June monitoring trip.