THE high price of baiting takes a managerial turn, writes PETER HEMPHILL
Grain farmers in eastern Australia are expected to resort to homemade chemical cocktails for control of mice if a spring plague eventuates.
It follows the decision by the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Chemicals Authority not to allow production of cheap baits to continue beyond this Friday.
West Australian chemical supplier 4Farmers was granted an emergency permit by the APVMA in June to produce zinc phosphide mice bait using growers' own grain because there was a shortage of the pre-existing registered alternative, MouseOff, produced by Animal Control Technologies Australia.
The advantage to the grower was the 4Farmers bait was about a third of the cost of MouseOff.
Grain growers say this year's mice plague was different from any other they have experienced, with some having to bait their paddocks up to four times.
At a cost of about $10 a hectare, growers see MouseOff as expensive, even for a single use.
But when the cost began totalling $40/ha at sowing as the plague worsened, growers responded by mixing their cheaper but lethal baits, using non-registered chemicals.
Native birds and town dogs were caught in the crossfire, with some dying or becoming quite ill from eating the laced grain or poisoned mice.
4Farmers' entry into the market with a cheaper zinc phosphide option to MouseOff brought a welcome respite to growers, though in Victoria approval for bait stations was held up by government bureaucracy.
Competition is a great leveller, with ACTA - which had a virtual monopoly on mouse bait in Victoria with MouseOff - matching 4Farmers' service with an identical one using farmers' own grain.
But come the end of this week, both cheap mouse bait options are banned because the APVMA has deemed that an emergency no longer exists and advice to the authority is that there is plenty of registered bait held by ACTA to cater for a big increase in mouse numbers.
The problem for many farmers is that when the APVMA considers registration of chemicals under its charter, the price of the product is not a consideration.
Its main priority is safety with the use of chemicals and whether a farmer struggles financially is not its concern.
Forcing growers to use an expensive bait is likely to backfire on the authority if another plague eventuates.
Given the choice of an expensive bait which will cut into growers' profits or a cheap but illegal chemical cocktail, it is not hard to see which option many farmers choose.
A farm leader last week said as much as half the bait likely to be spread by farmers could be illegal.
This year, grain prices have been relatively high.
If grain prices had been low, the mice plague may have sent most farmers financially backwards.
Two issues need to be addressed from of this year's plague.
The first is a review of the APVMA's charter requiring it to consider the economics of the decision at hand.
Second, if the safety of 4Farmers bait is an issue, the authority should be working with the chemical supplier right now to ensure mixing practices are strengthened so the end product - and any similar cheap alternatives - is granted permanent registration.
- Peter Hemphill is The Weekly Times' grains writer