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Authorities Join Forces to Counter Mouse Plague

16 August 2011

AUSTRALIA - A national working group has been established to co-ordinate preparations for and response to what is expected to be a continuation of Australia's worst mouse plague amongst crops in living memory.

A plague is likely to emerge in late spring and into the coming summer, based on the latest reports from various state government authorities.

With support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the National Mouse Management Working Group (NMMWG) has been set up to co-ordinate actions to counter the imminent plague and to facilitate bait availability on-ground when it's needed.

NMMWG chair Simon Humphrys says the working group is meeting on a regular basis to prepare for a plague situation and to arm those likely to be affected â€" particularly grain growers â€" with crucial information and resources.

"Around three million hectares in the southern cropping region was affected in autumn, which has already cost growers around $200 million in losses," said Dr Humphrys.

"Mouse numbers have retreated in recent months but in parts of Australia sufficiently high densities have persisted, despite baiting programs.

"Although they may not be causing damage yet, the carryover populations have the potential to significantly increase crop losses as crops mature, particularly at flowering and seed-set. These growth stages contain less feed value than mature grains, so more need to be eaten to sustain each mouse."

The NMMWG says monitoring for mouse damage over the next month will be critical and baiting is advised as soon as damage to crops is noticed to reduce the risk of substantial losses, particularly in areas that had high mouse densities in autumn.

"Even if local baiting is effective, mice can range over larger areas than previously thought so monitoring after baiting is critical to prevent damage by re-invading mice. Monitoring should occur seven to 14 days after baiting," Dr Humphrys said.

Application rate results from field trials this year confirm that 1kg/hectare is an effective rate. Experts say the effectiveness of baiting in maturing crops may be improved if bait is spread at dusk or night.

Growers are reminded that baiting is the only option for mouse control in-crop and zinc phosphide is the only active ingredient registered for in-crop use.

The NMMWG includes representation from relevant state governments, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), the GRDC and the Invasive Animals CRC. The group also involves grains industry stakeholders and grower organisations, such as Grain Producers Australia.

Prior to formal establishment of the NMMWG, members of the group had been meeting by teleconference since Easter to provide strategic advice and information on permits.

In response to industry concerns about bait supply, the GRDC has also been involved in discussions with state government coordinators to assemble an emergency permit application, subsequently submitted by the existing bait registrants, for use of unsterilised grain as a bait substrate.

The GRDC, on behalf of growers and the Australian Government, is making further investment in mouse control strategies in 2011 based on grower and advisor input to complement previous research projects conducted on this topic.

TheCropSite News Desk

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