A plague of mice is causing havoc and potential ruin on Australian farms.
The rodents, swarming in their millions, are also bringing chaos to schools, homes and hospitals in the eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland.
Some farmers are so dismayed that they have refused to plant out winter crops this year in the belief that they will only lose them to the mice.
The success of last season, when many farms recorded bumper crops, is thought to be behind the plague of mice.
Matthew Madden, the grains committee chair for industry group NSW, said landowners feared damage to freshly sown seeds and ripened grain.
“People are actually just abandoning crops because they think, ‘why am I going to plant this if it’s going to get eaten?’ ” he said.
Mr Madden, who farms at Moree in northern New South Wales, went on: “The anxiety is, even if I get it to spring, if these vast numbers are still here they’ll just eat the crop as it ripens.”
The rodents caused immense damage to crops earlier this year, with farms sustaining losses of between 20 per cent and total devastation in some fields.
Mr Madden said in addition crops that had survived the onslaught to be put in storage had been contaminated by mouse droppings.
That, he said, would cost farmers who would have to invest in extra cleaning and could still face their produce being rejected at the ports.
Mr Madden – who lost a tractor to fire after mice bit through a live wire – said the rodents could ultimately cost farmers millions of dollars in damaged machinery, equipment and lost produce.
The health of farmers and their families was also being put at risk by the infestation, he said.
“We won’t know until harvest time. It’s just unimaginable,” he said.
Last year’s heavy rainfall, which followed a prolonged drought, encouraged the population boom in mice numbers, said Mr Madden.
“Over the drought we didn’t have these issues,” he said. “It’s been a perfect storm.”
The Australian Oilseeds Fed-eration, which was predicting a record canola crop this year, is now not so certain.
While the high price of oilseed and the optimal weather created perfect conditions for the crop, the mice have disrupted seeding in New South Wales, potentially hitting production this season.
Rodent numbers generally re-duce as the Australian weather grows colder, though there is little indication of that this year – leading to fears of an even bigger boom in mice numbers come Spring.
Local authorities, meanwhile, are stocking up on the highly toxic pesticide Bromadiolone in the hope that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Med-icines Authority will approve its use given the severity of the problem.