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J.B. Griffiths1, S.C. Dunn1, S.L. Starbuck1, and D.A. Jones2

1Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Private Bag 260, Horsham, Vic 3401
CSIRO, Mallee Research Station, Walpeup, Vic 3507

The eastern Australian grainbelt is invaded by plague populations of the house mouse (Mus domesticus) on average one in every four years. Plagues may be localised, or widespread, severe and prolonged or short lived. The potential for damage within the affected areas is high, economically, socially and environmentally.

Over the past 10-15 years, traditional farming systems in grain growing areas of the Darling Downs in Queensland and the Wimmera in Victoria have largely been modified. Increased frequency of cropping, a more diverse range of species cropped, minimum tillage, direct drilling into retained stubbles, have been incorporated into the farming system. The advent of continuous cropping rotations has the potential to provide mouse populations with a regular food supply. The grain remaining in the paddock post harvest is available to mice at a time when other food sources have become restricted. This can greatly influence the length of the breeding season and subsequent size of the mouse population.

The Darling Downs has experienced a mouse plague every three of the past ten years. The indications are that frequent periods of high mouse populations may become a normal agricultural issue. There is a need to develop a culture that the management of mice must be included in the overall farm management strategy, and that it is no different from the other pest and weed issues facing the farmer every day.

GRDC has funded a pilot project for the eastern grainbelt to examine practical methods of monitoring and assessing mouse populations. On-farm monitoring of crop performance is undertaken by a large proportion of farmers. Since monitoring is the key to managing mouse and other pest populations, it is logical that it should be included as part of the crop performance monitoring. Monitoring mouse numbers at critical times in the population cycle will enable prediction of changes in mouse numbers. The Victorian based project is seeking farmer input to develop and trial the monitoring strategies, thus ensuring the methods can be adopted on farm.

In association with the community monitoring project, Agriculture Victoria, CSIRO, and a farmer advisory panel are working to develop and assess Best Farm Practices for Mouse Control. The objective of the Bureau of Resource Sciences funded project is to provide farmers with cost-effective, sustainable and environmentally safe management practices which may be implemented when mouse populations are in the early stage of increase. A number of sites in the Wimmera and Mallee regions of Victoria are being studied to determine the impact of farm practices on the population density of mice and seasonal availability of food and key habitats.

The potential for mouse populations to reach plague proportions will be lessened as a result of on-farm mouse monitoring. A timely warning of population increase will provide farmers with the opportunity to implement on farm strategies to reduce the amount, and quality of food supplies and harbour for the growing mouse populations. The tactical management of mice when high numbers are forecast will minimise the potential economic, social and environmental costs.

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