A farmer in southern Queensland estimates mice have already destroyed 5 per cent of his winter crop.

Key points:

  • Farmers estimate mice have destroyed more than 5 per cent of their crops
  • For some, this year’s winter crop is their first in four years
  • Farmers are being urged to bait early to ensure the mice don’t get out of control

This year is the first since 2016 that farmers in parts of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales have had enough water and soil moisture to plant wheat, barley, canola and chickpeas.

But the improvement in season also meant good conditions for pests and rodents.

Stephen Gibson said he had mice throughout his 16,000 acres of wheat, barley and chickpeas, spread across properties near Dulacca and Condamine in Queensland.

“We’ve had to bait all of our wheat country so far and it looks like we’ll probably have to do all the chickpeas next week if the frost doesn’t touch them up,” he said.

“[The damage] is visually evident. It’s hard to put a figure on it but it could be 5 per cent [of the crop that has died as a result of mice].

Mr Gibson said he first noticed the mice a month ago.

“We had some early wheat come out in head and they pretty much smashed that,” he said.

“Anything that was early, they got into that pretty hard.

‘A lot riding on this crop’

Bill Manning, a cropping specialist with North West Local Land Services in New South Wales said after years of drought, this year’s crop was particularly important.

He said in recent weeks the mice had become more apparent around the Gunnedah district, particularly in flowering canola crops.

The mice eat the stems of the wheat which causes it to fall over and die.(Supplied: Stephen Gibson)

“The losses so far are not great, but there is potential there for numbers to increase and a greater level of damage to occur,” he said.

“Generally, yield potential is pretty good so far and growers are keen to do what they can to protect that potential.

Mice problem expected to get worse

The National Mouse Group has recently met and CSIRO research officer, Steve Henry, said it found the Liverpool Plains in New South Wales and the Darling Downs in Queensland were its two key areas of concern.

“Historically, when you get a few tough seasons in a row and then you get a couple of good seasons, that’s the time when mouse numbers really get cracking and you go from undetectable numbers of mice to really high numbers really quickly,” he said.

Mr Henry said he expected the problem would only get worse in spring.

“We are a little bit concerned for the future because we know there will be a pretty big summer crop sown and that will mean there will be a lot of food in the system and that leads to quite favourable conditions for mice,” he said.

“Mice start breeding in the Spring [and] the thing to remember about mice is they start breeding at six weeks of age and then they can have between six and ten pups every 19 to 21 days after that.”

Mice haven’t done too much damage to canola crops near Gunnedah yet, but numbers are expected to get worse on the Liverpool Plains.(ABC: Jennifer Ingall)

Farmers need to be on the lookout for mice now

Mr Manning said farmers need to keep checking levels of mice activity in the coming weeks and months as grain crops ripen and summer planting begins.

“It is probably a little early to be seeing mice, [but] we suggest that people go to the GRDC website and download a chew card to give them an idea of what’s out there,” he said.

“You can print them out, soak them in canola oil, put them in a paddock overnight, come back and do an assessment.”

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