FRUSTRATED South Coast farmers dealing with a potential mice plague, are waiting on the grinding wheels of bureaucracy.
As the mice population continues to increase with females producing babies about every 21 days, Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston was this week waiting on a "process" involving the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) providing him with a draft, presumably on what action should be taken.
Mr Baston's spokesman told Farm Weekly last Friday the minister had yet to make a decision on how to respond to the problem, despite the matter being made public three weeks ago by 4Farmers general manager Neil Mortimore.
One farmer moved swiftly to secure Health Department approval to mix a poisonous bait on his property but was met with a red tape reply (see below).
Mr Mortimer said he raised a red alert because of the potential for the mice problem to escalate into a plague.
He said his company could introduce a zinc phosphide bait costing between $2 and $3 per kilogram to mitigate costs faced by farmers in applying a South Australian-made product called Mouse Off which retailed for between $7-$8/kg, with a recommended rate of 1kg/hectare every 14 days.
Mr Mortimore said he was keen to hear from farmers in affected areas who could set up a station on their farm to allow their peers to cart their own grain and mix the 4Farmers product at the station to use as bait on their properties.
He said centralised access to mice bait would be easier and cheaper for farmers.
"The mixing process is easy and it's a quick way to try to arrest this problem because I've heard of huge areas that may need to be re-sown," he said.
"Our only problem is getting the necessary licensing from the Health Department.
"Normally it can take two to three weeks to get a licence but we're trying to see if politicians can fast-track the process in light of the urgency."
Mr Mortimer has written to the Department of Agriculture and Food and spoken with Health Minister Kim Hames and former Sport and Recreation; Racing and Gaming Minister Tuck Waldron.
But three weeks on he said the bureaucratic wheels were turning too slow.
"It's really not good enough," he said.
"The problem is more urgent and my concern is that the problem will be resolved too late (to stop an increasing mice population)."
Farm Weekly has obtained a copy of an email from the Health Department responding to one South Coast farmer who made an application for a wholesale licence to mix a poison on his farm.
It reads: Thank you for your application for a wholesale licence.
We do not take payment for the applications at this location, we do require you to send the hard copy of the application form directly to Health Corporate Network (HCN) as indicated on the application form.
We do (sic) process the application forms until we have received them from HCN along with the receipt for payment.
p Please ensure all parts of the application form are completed and attached to the form which is mailed to the address on the application form.
p Supervisor- the licence holder or supervisor will need to be on the premises.
p Point 6 Premises purpose as approved by Local Government: We will require confirmation that the premises are approved for the manufacture of pesticides by the local council, often farms are not approved for this purpose.
p Points 7,8,9 and 10 please ensure these are completed and the SOPs attached where requested to the application form.
p Please attach a mud map of the facility and fencing.
p In addition please indicate what APVMA registered product is being mix/manufactured or sold at this premises.
p Please provide further information as to what is going to be conducted, is there a pre-packaged product being sold, a product being manufactured from scratch or a product being mixed on site.
Again please attach all the required documentation to the application form and mail to the address on the form (HCN).
According to one South Coast farmer who declined to be named, the mice problem remains patchy.
"I know one neighbour has re-seeded 1000ha of crop because of mice damage to germinations," the farmer said.
"Most guys who have mice problems are continuous croppers and while we've got some populations we've been baiting with varied success and we're lucky with minimal crop damage.
"But it has been costly.
"It's the first time we've had mice in these sorts of numbers where they have the potential to destroy crops."
CSIRO scientist Steve Henry, who co-ordinates the Mouse Alert App, said winter survival of mice populations is the key to numbers building in spring.
"At the moment, mice are at the bottom of their breeding cycle and if it's a wet and frosty winter, survival numbers will be low," he said.
"But if it's a milder winter, you can expect to see a higher percentage of survivors that will form a breeding base in spring and that's what you've got to look out for."