Getting serious about snail eradication

12 Mar, 2018 04:00 AM
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South Stirlings farmer Scott Smith is based 75 kilometres north-east of Albany and has had a snail issue for close to 25 years.
South Stirlings farmer Scott Smith is based 75 kilometres north-east of Albany and has had a snail issue for close to 25 years.

SNAIL talk hit home for South Stirlings farmer Scott Smith after small pointed snails caused major crop damage.

For the past 25 years Mr Smith said he had always had snails, although close to 11 years ago he started to lose between 15-20 hectares of crop, with 5ha completely wiped out.

Mr Smith has used a range of methods to control the snails with narrow windrow burning and the application of snail baits.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) entomologist Svetlana Micic said the conical snail could be found in any landscape from Esperance to Geraldton.

“Scott is a great farmer and just because he is in a wet area doesn’t mean he has snails, with the predicted distribution of the small pointed snails throughout our State is throughout every single agricultural zone,” Ms Micic said at the Grains Research and Development Corporations (GRDC) Research Updates, Perth, last week.

Mr Smith said the general strategy was to spread baited pellets before seeding where they know they have problem areas.

Another solution he found was to graze pastures right down coming into summer so the snails lacked food.

“My issue with baiting is it’s a bit of a guess and I am baiting a lot on the history of the paddock,” he said.

“If we are putting canola into a paddock that was really bad we will bait twice.”

Mr Smith is using the cheapest available bait he can get after the pricing of rain-fast pellets became too expensive.

A trial conducted by DPIRD showed that it didn’t matter what bait use - if a snail ate the active ingredient it would die.

Aiming for 40 pellets a square metre, Mr Smith said he was using double the label rate of Meta, which he buys in one tonne bulker bags for about $1.30 per kilogram.

Ms Micic said if the snails were actively feeding you will get a kill, but they need to be actively feeding.

“It’s random encounter, the more bait points you have per square meter the more likely it is a snail will come into contact with it,” she said.

Mr Smith has found that snails are not like slugs and they don’t actively seek out the bait.

He said “they just slide around randomly and if they bump into something they will have a chew on it.”

The DPIRD trial proved that within seven days all the snails that were actively feeding were killed.

“The snails that were going to eat, they ate and the others just didn’t,” she said.

The cost of spreading for Mr Smith is about $20 per hectare which is a fair bit when sometimes he spreads twice.

“I am using 15kg per hectare, which gives me the 40 bait points per square meter,” he said.

Mr Smith said another method was baiting after burning, but this would mean he would have to make sure they were actively feeding, which is a bit of a hit-and-miss in March each year.

With the help and development of Ms Micic and her team at DPIRD, Mr Smith hopes he can soon find a way to minimise the damage snails inflicted although he isn’t certain he will be able to remove them all together.

DPIRD is working on an application, to ensure the right amount of baits are going out, using photographs to tell growers what their bait coverage is.

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