rodent

The early 2000s were not an easy time for the Australian agricultural community. The elements were wreaking havoc on farming areas, with many experiencing little to no rain for the better part of a decade. But the lack of precipitation was not the only issue affecting these sons of the soil. A lethal combination of drought, locusts and a lack of resources each came to play a role in what became one of the worst-ever infestations in Australian history. It stands to prove the importance of pest management, as rodents can pose a threat not only to urban areas like Sydney, but broadly, to our domestic food supply.

Grain farms have long attracted infestations. Their large yields and outdoor storage has made easy tucker for rodents, and coping with such infestations has always been a part of the farming lifestyle. However, a shortage of natural predators in Australia – many species of mice and rats are an introduced species – was exacerbated by the drought, whereby many of their natural airborne hunters had been chased elsewhere in the search for water. The large stockpiles of food meant that a marked increase in numbers was set to arrive, and in 2011, it wasted no time.

That season, grain farmers were sowing their fields three, even four times, in an effort to have them germinate before being consumed. Mice hordes move in from the edges of the fields and dug the newly-sown seeds from the ground, resulting in large swathes of barren brown soil where nothing grew. Despite the best efforts of the farming community, many fields were eventually abandoned, and laid fallow until the next season.

This episode marked a breakdown in coping mechanisms. The only manner of effective and legal control was a Melbourne product, a grain seed coated in zinc phosphate, but whose manufacturers were simply unable to meet the sudden and dramatic increase in demand. The lack of available rodent control led to many attempting home remedies, in a desperate attempt to stem the flood of rodents from destroying crops. Many of these were considered dangerous for both humans and the environment. By that point in the fight, this effort was hardly a drop in the bucket.

The lessons of 2011 stood to prove that Australia needed a comprehensive plan to aid our efforts in pest management, in our major cities like Sydney and Melbourne, and elsewhere. An ample stockpile of the proper chemical could have made all the difference in the fight to save a season of effort on the part of our farmers, and could well prevent the sanitary and health issues of a major infestation should it occur in one of our urban areas.