NSW government throws mice-plagued farmers a lifeline

By Melissa Coade

Sunday June 13, 2021

Mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Rebates for farmers to purchase zinc phosphide are being offered by the state government, which has extended a scheme to assist primary producers with the mouse plague impacting significant parts of regional NSW.

The NSW government will offer a 50% rebate for the mouse control chemical zinc phosphide to eligible primary producers who have suffered a financial hit due to the recent mice plague.

The chemical is considered to be an ‘unlikely secondary poison’ for other vulnerable animals in the food chain if they happen to eat the poisoned mice but experts warn that it should be used cautiously.

NSW deputy premier John Barilaro announced the $100 million rebate scheme on Wednesday. He said he hoped the rebate for chemical purchases up to $10,000 would give primary producers the cash flow and confidence to make advanced orders before springtime.

“Zinc phosphide is already a tax deductible expense for primary producers and while many are now seeing more promising business activity following the drought, I know the mice plague is stinging the hip pocket, which is why we are providing this rebate,” Barilaro said.

According to Australian scientists, mouse plagues are a regular cycle in this country. However, in the scheme of plagues experienced since the late 1800s, rarely has any plague been as bad as this one. According to the CSIRO, mouse numbers in the Central West and northern NSW (Moree, Liverpool Plains) were ‘very high’ in March 2021. 

For 10 months now the pests in their millions have cost farmers damage to property, crops and are even biting hospital patients in their beds. NSW Health confirmed to the ABC in March that people admitted to hospitals in Tottenham, Walgett and Gulargambone were nipped by the rodents as the plague escalates.

The NSW government is expecting a ‘spring surge’ in the population of the mouse plague, and agriculture minister Adam Marshall said he wanted to help farmers shore up their zinc phosphide supplies to ‘stamp out’ the possibility. Part of the government measures will include $5 million to assist with transporting the chemical to Australia and prioritising its distribution to the state.

“We will make sure zinc phosphide baits produced as part of this arrangement are earmarked for sale to NSW producers first, and we will continue to work to connect manufacturers with Commonwealth support such as the International Freight Assistance Mechanism,” Marshall said.

A rebate framework for the zinc phosphide is now being developed by the Department of Regional NSW and the Rural Assistance Authority, including eligibility criteria and a mechanism for how primary producers can claim the rebate.

Currently primary producers who live and work on the same property are eligible to claim rebates of up to $1,000 to protect their home with items such as mouse bait, traps and cleaning products. 

The government said that approval from the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for use of bromadiolone for perimeter baiting was still pending. Scientists have warned that using bromadiolone to combat the mouse plague will have potentially devastating flow-on effects for native predator animals such as wedge-tailed eagles and goannas who feast on the mice.

Last week The Guardian reported that scores of dead galahs found around Forbes, Parkes, Dubbo, Narromine, Condobolin and the Riverina had died from ingesting mouse bait.

Video footage of Murray cod in Dubbo that had regurgitated the carcasses of mice that had swum across the water has also gone viral.


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