Mouse plague after rains brings Australian farmers to their knees
Thousands in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria states deal with an infestation
Gilgandra — Australian farmer Norman Moeris lifts a protective tarpaulin covering his valuable grain harvest on a cool evening — only to reveal a seething mass of rodents.
Moeris is among thousands of farmers in parts of New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria states dealing with an infestation of mice that have ravaged crops, gnawed through farming equipment and household appliances, caused power blackouts and invaded supermarkets.
“This grain here, the mice have just totally ruined it. [We’ll] probably just dig a hole and bury the lot of it,” Moeris said. “Not worth feeding to the livestock in case you kill them.”
For Moeris and other farmers, the timing of the plague is heartbreaking, caused by heavy rains in recent months that had relieved the country’s worst drought in years.
The wet weather not only helped produce Australia’s largest-yet grain crop, but also provided ample food for the mice, fuelling their fast reproductive cycle.
Moeris grows wheat, barley, oats, chickpeas and broad beans, and rears 900 merino sheep on 1,133ha on his farm near Gilgandra, 430km northwest of Sydney.
The 65-year-old said he has lost $130,000 worth of grain due to the mouse plague, after the loss of about 2,100 sheep during the three-year drought, and there is little he can do.
Despite perimeter baiting about paddocks and laying traps and water buckets about the house, the mice just keep coming.
“It’s just hard, after the drought, that’s the biggest trouble,” said Moeris. “We’ve been on our knees, we got up a bit, now we’re back on our knees with the mice.”
The New South Wales state government offered farmers free bait to eradicate the rodents earlier this month, but has so far resisted calls from some to allow the use of bromadiolone, a poison banned in Australia. Some farmers and environmentalists have warned of the unintended consequences to native animals from its use.
Moeris has no option but to press on.
“What do you do? Do it again next spring, hopefully to God it all comes off,” he said. “We’ll do it again, the mice will come back again in another couple of years' time and we’ll probably do it all again. That’s Australian life.”
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