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5 February, 2021

Mice plague slices a third off central Queensland crops

Elders technical services manager Maree Crawford said, farmers in southern and western Queensland were also dealing with locusts.


A mice plague has arrived in central Queensland and is set to slash yields by a third according to agronomists, worsening the prospects for farmers who have already been hit by fall armyworms, helicoverpa, locusts and even termites this season.

To top it off, Elders technical services manager Maree Crawford said, farmers in southern and western Queensland were also dealing with locusts.

“It's just been layer upon layer of pest invasions this season,” she said.

Ms Crawford said the mice were attacking all sorts of crops but had done the most damage to grain sorghum and maize crops.

The mice had been feeding on and breeding in wheat stubble, she said, and were now looking for fresh feed sources. Thanks to sporadic rainfall, many sorghum varieties had tillered, producing new heads that were still at the very attractive soft dough stage.

“Because the mice are cleaning up those tillers, it makes it an easy decision to just go in and harvest what’s left,” she said.

Elders agronomists were seeing particularly large populations around Jandowae, Dalby, Chinchilla and the central Darling Downs.

“Some of these Central Downs soils cracked open quite wide in the in the winter, so the mice had somewhere to shelter,” Ms Crawford said.

“Then some pretty good winter crops came off, making the conditions very conducive to a mouse plague. I’d say these are the biggest mice numbers we’ve seen for at least 10 years.”
With sorghum crops at varying stages of maturity now, Ms Crawford said, mice were damaging both heads of grain and the florets of later-sown crops.

“In the mature crops, we’re seeing yields in some paddocks hit by about 30 per cent but we won’t know until grain fill what the full impact has been on later-sown sorghum,” she said.

The goal now was to minimise damage by reducing mouse numbers with extensive baiting programs. Ms Crawford said that while farmers now were responding quickly, populations were still growing.

“I honestly think that a lot of people have been taken by surprise, because they've been so focused on getting the helicoverpa, midge and all sorts of insects, under control this season,” she said.

“They've forgotten about the potential for this wave of this plague of mice and been looking for infestations on the crop rather than on the ground.”

Tell-tale signs of mice included holes in the earth, damaged grain heads and grain shavings on the ground.

“Sorghum's worth around $300 a tonne at the moment, so it's well worth the investment to get in there and really protect that crop by putting the baits out and doing it really well,” Ms Crawford said.

“Hopefully, we're going to control this major incursion, but nobody will be able to relax until that grain goes into the silos.

“And we need to also have really good hygiene on-farm and around the storage facilities to ensure our mice control plans are sound.”




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