Re­gion’s eyes turn to mice

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Ag Life - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Au­thor­i­ties con­tin­u­ally as­sess­ing in­for­ma­tion about mouse num­bers across north-west Vic­to­ria say it is too early to pre­dict if the pests will reach plague pro­por­tions this year.

Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and emer­gen­cies man­ager Banjo Pat­ter­son said con­flict­ing re­ports on a build-up of ro­dent num­bers were paint­ing an in­con­clu­sive pic­ture.

He said while con­di­tions were in many ways con­ducive to a wide­spread mouse-pop­u­la­tion in­crease, De­cem­ber sur­veys had shown num­bers to be low.

“But we’re get­ting mixed mes­sages and we have some peo­ple say­ing they have seen a sig­nif­i­cant build-up,” he said.

“What that tells us is that it is too early to pre­dict what might hap­pen and we sim­ply have to wait and see.

“It all works on ir­reg­u­lar pat­terns and while we’ve had quite heavy crops and there is more grain on the ground than usual, there are also fac­tors such as rain and sum­mer-weed seeds to con­sider.”

The CSIRO warned in Jan­uary that Vic­to­ri­ans and South Aus­tralians should ex­pect a build-up in mouse num­bers as a re­sult of last year’s wet spring.

Ecol­o­gist Steven Henry said at the time that cli­mate, food and breed­ing were the three key fac­tors that could con­trib­ute to a plague.

He said the breed­ing sea­son usu­ally started in late Au­gust or Septem­ber, but re­searchers had found it had started in early Au­gust.

He added read­ily avail­able food meant mice could con­cen­trate more on breed­ing in­stead of us­ing en­ergy for for­ag­ing and that could con­tinue un­less hin­dered by hot, dry weather.

“This means there is po­ten­tial for ‘greater base pop­u­la­tion’ ready to pro­cre­ate when farm­ers start­ing sow­ing in au­tumn,” Mr Henry said.

The re­gion has had some ex­treme hot days but many peo­ple mon­i­tor­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions be­lieve the sum­mer sea­son has been rel­a­tively mild.

Mr Pat­ter­son said Agri­cul­ture Vic­to­ria used in­for­ma­tion from the CSIRO as well as other sources to mon­i­tor mouse num­bers across the state.

“We also talk to in­di­vid­ual grow­ers and groups such as Birchip Crop­ping Group, so it is a mix,” he said.

“What we sug­gest is grow­ers record and map ac­tiv­ity on the web with the Mouse­al­ert web­site and mo­bile phone app.

“The next big risk time will come in sow­ing in au­tumn and the po­ten­tial dam­age to newly sown crops.”

Aus­tralia’s most fi­nan­cially dev­as­tat­ing mouse plague came in 1993 when the ro­dents caused an es­ti­mated $96-mil­lion worth of dam­age in the crop­ping and live­stock in­dus­tries.

The pests not only eat crops, but at­tack an­i­mals and poul­try, foul wa­ter stor­ages and are driven by hunger to chew through elec­tri­cal ca­bles.

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