Plague of Mice Overruns Australian Farms After Drought’s Finish Creates Optimum Situations for the Rodents | The Climate Channel – Articles from The Climate Channel

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Mice crouch on a plastic tarp that served as a trap at Terry Fishpool’s Farm in Tottenham, New South Wales, Australia on June 2, 2021.

(SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images)

  • Farmers said they are grappling with “the worst mouse plague in living memory”.
  • A minister of agriculture said a banned poison was required to “make the mice forget”.
  • Climate change could make mouse plagues more common, warns an expert.

The end of a drought is usually just good news, but Australians are learning that good can come with problems – millions of problems.

Since the end of a crippling, nearly three-year drought – accompanied by unprecedented forest fires – millions of mice have invaded farms across the state of New South Wales and spread through southern Queensland and south to South Australia and Western Australia.

The furry horde has devastated grain and hay harvests and destroyed agricultural machinery and household appliances. People even report being bitten in bed.

Mouse plagues are not uncommon in Australia, but the number of mice this year has been “just astronomical,” Terry Fishpool, a grain producer from Tottenham, New South Wales, told AFP.

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The conditions were ideal for a rodent explosion at the end of the drought. More than 34 consecutive months of dry weather gave way to rain from January 2020. From that month onwards, almost above-average rainfall returned in many parts of Australia, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. The winter of 2020 from June to August in New South Wales was the wettest in four years.

That spring, farmers began harvesting their most successful crops for years. It was around this time that the mice began showing up, according to Australian Broadcasting Corp

Not only did the mice have a lot to eat, they also faced fewer predators. Many of their natural enemies had died in the drought and fires.

A change in husbandry methods also benefited the mice. Instead of burning down old crop stubble, farmers left the dead stems behind and planted new seeds around them to help maintain moisture in the soil, according to the Washington Post. This offered the mice even more food and shelter.

A mouse sits on a plastic tarp that was used as a trap at Terry Fishpool's Farm in the agricultural town of Tottenham, New South Wales on June 2, 2021.  After years of crippling drought, farmers in Eastern Australia are in a battle with hordes of mice as they roam through fields devouring crops.  (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images)

A mouse sits on a plastic tarp that was used as a trap at Terry Fishpool’s Farm in the agricultural town of Tottenham, New South Wales on June 2, 2021. After years of crippling drought, farmers in Eastern Australia are in a battle with hordes of mice as they roam through fields devouring crops.

(SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images)

A mild, humid summer allowed the mice to breed through the summer months until autumn, reported ABC. Mice can have a litter every 21 days and start breeding when they are 6 weeks old. A pair of mice can have 500 offspring in one season.

Farmers in Australia’s eastern grain belt told the New York Times they were facing “the worst mouse plague in living memory”.

It’s like “watching the mice eat your future,” said Kathy Fragar, whose family runs a wheat farm in Tottenham.

Thousands upon thousands of mice have invaded haystacks and grain silos. What they don’t eat is often destroyed by urine and feces.

The mice not only eat and destroy grain, they also wreak havoc in the houses. Families have said the mice pull insulation from ovens and chew through electrical cables. A pub owner told AFP that they will eat anything that is not kept in plastic cups. Grocery stores find holes in sacks of flour.

Officials in New South Wales have seized 1,320 gallons of a banned poison called bromadiolone from India but have not yet approved its use, the Associated Press reported.

“We have to go this route because we need something super powerful, the equivalent of napalm, to just forget about those mice,” said NSW Agriculture Secretary Adam Marshall.

Bromadiolone works faster than the currently approved zinc phosphide bait, but critics fear that it would kill animals that eat the mice, such as wedge-tailed eagles, because it stays in the system of dead or dying mice longer.

Winter has now started and it is feared that the mice will eat the grown wheat, barley and rapeseed before it can be harvested.

The plague will reduce the value of the winter crop by more than A $ 1 billion (US $ 775 million), estimates NSW Farmers, the state’s leading agricultural association, according to the AP.

Australian farmer Col Tink and his grandson chase mice from a wheat store into a water-filled tub that serves as a trap on his property in the town of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia.  (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images)

Australian farmer Col Tink and his grandson chase mice from a wheat store into a water-filled tub that serves as a trap on his property in the town of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia.

(SAEED KHAN / AFP via Getty Images)

“Unless we have a really cold and pretty wet winter, I’m just a little worried about what will happen in the spring,” Col Tink, who owns a farm near the rural town of Dubbo, told AFP.

“We are now at a critical point where we will face an absolute economic and social crisis in rural and regional New South Wales if we do not significantly reduce the number of mice that are in plague proportions by spring,” said Marshall, the Secretary of Agriculture, said in May.

Bill Bateman, an associate professor at Curtin University in Western Australia, said giant mouse plagues happen once a decade, but climate change could make them more regular.

“When we don’t have those cold winters anymore, so we have year-round resources for mice, it becomes more of a chronic issue than an acute one,” Bateman said.

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