Plague threat pushes mouse bait changes

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Authorities fear mice will reach plague proportions this summer.

With predictions of the worst mouse plague in living memory this spring and summer, the GRDC is stepping up its research and control programs. 

The plague threat comes from reports that mouse populations have not declined over winter because of the food supply provided by rain-damaged crops from the 2010 harvest.  

Mice are believed to be affecting about three million hectares in Australia’s southern grains region, with early season losses of more than $200 million. This could escalate with spring and the new crop. 

The grim predictions are driving changes to regulatory controls governing the preparation of bait to eventually allow on-farm ‘batching’ to overcome supply bottlenecks. 

Earlier this year the GRDC contracted the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre (IA CRC) to find ways to improve growers’ use of the currently registered zinc phosphide bait. 

Early results from the IA CRC’s work have already been incorporated into a revised GRDC Fact Sheet, sent out to industry in September. 

There has been unprecedented demand for zinc phosphide bait, which has resulted in the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) approving a number of emergency permits in 2011, including permits for regional manufacture of zinc phosphide bait. 

The APVMA has indicated that a full occupational health and safety (OH&S) package is required to support potential future on-farm bait manufacture by farmers. 

To this end, the GRDC’s manager for crop protection, Dr Rohan Rainbow, says funding has been approved for a joint research project to develop an OH&S package to potentially support future on-farm batching of mouse baits. 

This project will be mostly funded by the GRDC, with a co-investment by the South Australian Government. It will be led by Associate Professor Tony Lower of the University of Sydney School of Public Health’s Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (ACAHS). 

Dr Rainbow says the research, which will take up to 12 months, is needed to fill a knowledge gap. If successful, the outcomes will significantly benefit the entire industry. 

R&D spokesperson for Grain Producers Australia Andrew Weidemann says that while the project won’t help growers this season, it will support future label registrations for regional bait manufacture. This means it will potentially provide a registration for safely mixing bait on-farm, something growers across Australia have been calling for. 

The GRDC has also signed agreements as an investment partner in the IA CRC to develop an alternative rodenticide product that has a lower risk to human health, potentially allowing grower batching, which could resolve several manufacturing and supply bottlenecks. 

More information: 
GRDC ‘Mouse Control’ Fact Sheet, www.grdc.com.au/GRDC-FS-MouseControl
GRDC Pestlinks, www.grdc.com.au/pestlinks

Region South, North, West, National