Farmers and communities across much of Eastern Australia’s inland areas have been hit by their worst mouse plague in nearly a decade, and threaten to undermine post-drought recovery efforts.
Mouse populations have increased over the past 12 months as growing conditions in rural Australia have improved and rodents have been given favorable conditions for feeding and breeding.
Increased mouse populations have been recorded from central Queensland to north and central-west NSW and as far as west Victoria.
In some areas, problems with mice have reached plague proportions.
CSIRO mouse researcher Steve Henry said that AAP mice enjoy the stubble of the plants and reproduce about every three weeks once they are six weeks old, making population control an almost impossible task.
The mouse populations have increased over the past 12 months as growing conditions have improved. Credit: AAP
The last major mouse outbreak in Australia occurred around 2011.
“The mice kept breeding into the spring and into the summer, and now the real concern is that they will continue to breed well into the fall and that the sowing of winter crops (in March / April) will cause major problems.” Mr. Henry said.
“You can force a farmer to do something about rabbits or foxes, but because they are ubiquitous in large numbers, everywhere you turn there is a mouse … it is just impossible to come upon them.”
According to Lee O’Connor, President of the Coonamble Chamber of Commerce and newspaper owner, such an outcome would be disastrous for rural communities just emerging from years of drought.
The city in the central west of New South Wales – located in the state’s “wheat belt” and famous for Australia’s largest rodeo and camp draft – has been fighting against booming mouse numbers both in the paddocks and in the houses since November.
In some places, the boom has resulted in a shortage of mouse lures and traps.
The Center for Invasive Species Solutions’ online reporting tool, FeralScan, lists seven key mouse sightings in the past 12 months around Coonamble, with mouse populations being “widespread and evident in the paddock.”
“One supermarket said they caught 200 a night, there were people who caught a few hundred in their pool filters every night,” Ms. O’Connor told AAP.
“They’re in beds, people nibble at night … it’s everywhere.”
Ms. O’Connor, the wife of a cattle, sheep and grain farmer, admitted she was concerned about the prospects for the 2021 winter crop if the mouse numbers don’t go down.
The mice destroy both grain and feed for cattle and sheep.
“It is obviously the issue that is on the minds of (farmers). Everyone is hoping something will happen to stop it,” she said.
“It is time to sow and they are all through the paddocks. There are already people who have sown summer crops and have had to re-sow them. “
Mr. Henry recommended that farmers graze their sheep on stubble to reduce the mice’s food source, spray germinating plants, and bait at least six weeks before sowing.
Should that fail, farmers should drop bait straight from the back of their seeders when planting.
The NSW Department of Primary Industries said in a statement that regular monitoring “is key to ensuring that the frequency and severity of mouse infestations are kept as low as possible”.
The department usually does not intervene in mouse plagues as they are not considered a harmful species.
But Ms. O’Connor said some government assistance – such as mouse bait subsidies – would be greatly appreciated.
“It’s in a pretty wide area of inland New South Wales now, and it’s something that you probably need a concerted effort for … in some ways it’s no different from a locust plague and the government agencies are all part of it.” , she said.