The plight of Australian farmers dealing with a crippling mouse plague may get worse before it gets better.
That's the concerning warning from a CSIRO scientist, as the skin-crawling scourge receives global attention.
Speaking to the UK's Independent newspaper, CSIRO Research Officer Steve Henry said the mouse plague, which has had a devastating impact in NSW, may have yet to reach its peak.
"There are two trajectories for mouse plagues," Mr Henry said. "They go really really high and then crash away in one year or they go high and plateau through the winter and then they go again next spring.
"Now, we're going into winter with a pretty good crop, so that will mean there’s a lot of food and mice in the spring if they survive through the winter."
Elevated mouse populations have been recorded from Central Queensland down to northern and central west NSW and into western Victoria.
Mice feast on the stubble of crops and reproduce roughly every three weeks once they reach six weeks old, making population control a near-impossible task.
The plague has already lasted eight moths but trying to predict when and how an outbreak will end "is very difficult", Mr Henry warned.
There has been growing concern the plague is set to spread to Sydney after reports of increased sightings in outer suburbs, but Mr Henry earlier dismissed the notion, saying fears mice could descend on the city by August were "nonsense".
"Mice are not moving across the landscape in a wave," he told The Guardian Australia.
Fears of two-year mouse plague
NSW Farmers say the out-of-control mouse plague will cut the value of the state's winter crop by one billion dollars.
The government-funded Mouse Alert website indicates sightings have doubled since March, with a growing number of mice being sighted in and around Sydney.
Last week, NSW Farmers Vice President Xavier Martin said farmers were abandoning some paddocks and couldn't defer sowing winter crops any longer, while researchers warn that "without a concerted baiting effort in the next few weeks this could easily turn into a two year plague event".
He said a $50 million NSW government assistance package announced a fortnight ago wasn't enough.
"The state government's assistance package is impractical, dysfunctional and weeks away, which is not helping farmers who need support right now to drive mouse numbers down and break this horrible unrelenting cycle," he said.
The state government last month secured 5000 litres of the super deadly rodent poison bromadiolone – enough to treat about 95 tonnes of grain – offering to provide it for free once federal authorities approve its use.
However farmers are concerned about the poison's possible effect on farm dogs, piggeries and other animals.
The last big mouse outbreak in Australia occurred around 2011.
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