Farmers pray for winter rains as mice plague escalates

Picking up the pieces: NSW farmers plagued by mice problems.
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NSW farmers are still hoping for rain, this time to stop the mice plague wreaking havoc on their livelihoods. Annabelle Phillips reports.

Farmers of the Southern Riverina are anxiously waiting for more rain, cool weather and a good winter – as the solution to overcome the raging mice plague currently sweeping through communities all over New South Wales.  

Agronomist Greg Sefton said the only thing that would successfully combat the mice was a normal winter – cold and wet.

The mice have launched into the stockpiles of grain from a bountiful summer harvest—stored to be sold over the winter—and are destroying the new season’s crops now germinating.

“Mice are always a problem after a bumper harvest—as the header leaves more grain behind on the ground due to the high yielding crop,” Mr Sefton said.

Local grain sheds are fighting a battle against the mice. Video: Annabelle Phillips

Murray MP Helen Dalton, also a farmer, said in a Facebook post it was “our worst plague ever. They’re now burrowing underground and eating my wheat seeds. Some farmers are losing their entire crops.”

The current plague means farmers are working overtime to spread bait to try and protect the sprouting seeds from the ravages of the rampant mice.

This high demand has seen a shortage in bait and an extreme financial burden on farmers to cover the expense of the costly bait.

Farmers pray for winter rains as mice plague escalates
NSW farmers are outnumbered by the destructive plague of rodents Picture: Wikipedia.

The NSW government recently released a rebate incentive of up to $1000 for primary producers towards the cost of baiting.

But Mr Sefton said it would cost a local farmer at least $25,000 to protect about 2000 acres of crop from mice.

Ms Dalton said the rebate wasn’t enough. “I know farmers who have spent $50,000 on baiting. So, a $1000 rebate isn’t going to go far,” she said.

“It really is a pathetic token gesture by a New South Wales Government, who don’t seem to care at all.”

The other problem is that primary producers can only claim rebates backdated until February. “But farmers were plagued by mice long before that,” she said.

Farmers pray for winter rains as mice plague escalates
Many farmers are wondering if their winter crops are already too damaged. Agronomist Greg Sefton takes a closer look with farmer Keith Phillips. Picture: Annabelle Phillips

Berrigan primary producer Keith Phillips said he thought the government should care more about the issue.

“The government rebate is not adequate given the size of the problem, and with the uncertain times at the moment, I would have thought security of food production would be at the forefront of the government’s mind,” he said.

“The other issue is farmers’ crop insurance does not offer coverage for natural vermin damage, it is limited to hail and fire damage. We are forced to just find the funds in the budget to deal with it.”

Mr Sefton said he had clients who had already lost their whole winter crop.

“They are mongrels of animals, and really there needs to be more research done into elimination of them and these plagues that keep occurring every 10 years.”

Mr Phillips is hopeful that some good rainfall and a couple of heavy frosts will see the end of the 2021 mouse plague.

“You don’t know when they are going to go but one day it just happens.”