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28 May, 2021

Mouse plague support package "too late"

After months of trying to be recognised, the state government has finally provided a start to mice plague assistance.

By Emily Middleton

Photo supplied via unsplash

 Announced on May 13, the NSW government has released a $50 million package to address the mice plague, which includes assistance for farmers with poison and baits. Chemical poison baits will be provided for free at a number of facilities to treat grain in the hardest hit areas, as well as rebates being available for households and small businesses of $500-$1000, to help with bait and trap costs. Alongside this, an application has also been made to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, to approve bromadiolone – which is currently banned and is the strongest position that is around when it comes to targeting mice.

Gilgandra Shire Council’s general manager, David Neeves, welcomed the package.

“The support package for the mice plague has been welcomed, particularly as many of our farmers are currently planting winter crops with the concern of the plague growing.

“We are encouraged to see that our concerns have been taken in account. In February of this year, council lobbied minister Adam Marshall for support for our region as the mice plague grew worse; the impact that it is having has affected cropping, and is a financial burden to try and overcome, not to mention the health and wellbeing impact in our homes,” said Mr Neeves.

“The plague has come at a time when we have finally started to see the benefits of the rainfall after a long drought period, hopefully this is the start of overcoming this plague,” he said.

But some locals aren’t all that impressed with the package, saying it’s come almost too late.

“If you qualify for this support that is great, but it’s come a little late for us. I don’t really know, but maybe if it had come earlier then we could have stopped the spread,” a local Collie farmer told The Gilgandra Weekly.

NSW farmers president James Jackson said that farmers have been suffering for far too long, and the cost has been significant.

“Some farmers have outlaid up to $150,000 on baiting already, and we’ve seen lost grain fodder and damage to farm machinery, not to mention the stress that has accumulated on top of bushfires, drought and COVID-19,” said Mr Jackson.

The consensus from locals is that the announcement from the government is a long awaited acknowledgement that the mouse plague is in fact a crisis.

NSW Country Women’s Association (CWA) chief executive officer, Danica Leys said the plague was not just an economic crisis but also a health crisis. The health issue has also been long-campaigned by member for Barwon, Roy Butler.

“From mice contaminating food and water, to human diseases spread by mice; the plague is affecting more than crops. This is not to mention the stress the plague is causing,” said Mr Butler.

Although he has welcomed the package , he is frustrated with the long wait.

“The NSW government waited for far too long to make this announcement, some communities in Barwon have been battling mice for over nine months. Whole crops have been destroyed, businesses have lost millions, and people have been bitten in their sleep. The constant battle against mice in homes, businesses, hospitals, and on farms has taken a huge mental toll on our communities,” said the member for Barwon.

“The government has sat by and done nothing until now. The public pressure became too great and they were forced to act. While I welcome the package, I’ll be watching to make sure it goes far enough,” he said.

Before the May 13 announcement, there had been some contention in parliament, causing great uproar in rural communities. There had been suggestions of political motivations being the reason for CWA and NSW Farmers calling on the government to step up in implementing a mouse plague financial support package. Just days before the government’s announcement, NSW Farmers and CWA joined forces to hold a parliamentary briefing to outline the significant financial and health impacts of the plague. Minister for agriculture and western NSW Adam Marshall, criticised the time of the meeting, stating:

“I find that bitterly disappointing, if they’re serious about getting government attention you’d think they’d hold the meeting at a time the government could actually attend.”

In response, CWA and NSW Farmers claimed:

“Suggestions that this was politically motivated are offensive to the families, businesses and communities who are enduring immense stress and hardship in the face of unprecedented mouse numbers. Our members travelled a long way to share their stories of the appalling impact the plague is having on their farms, in their homes and to their livelihood. NSW Farmers and NSW CWA did not receive a request to change the time of the briefing so more parliamentarians could attend.”

NSW CWA was granted a meeting with the minister that afternoon and were able to further communicate the extent and severity of the issue being experienced across the state. A survey has been also conducted by both CWA and NSW Farmers to provide hard evidence to the parliament, which was able to provide staggering results.

• 97 per cent of respondents said the influx of mice has affected their stress levels making farm business decisions.

• One third of respondents reported an estimated loss of between $50,00 and $150,000.

• 80 per cent of respondents reported damage to agricultureal machinery and infrastructure, with one third saying the damage bills were between $20,00 and $150,000.

• 75 per cent of farmers reported an inability to access bait when needed.

While the government is now on the right track in providing support, there is still a long way to go before this crisis will be any where near seeing an end.

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