WITH mice swarming across northern NSW at plague proportions this year, farmers have been looking for new and innovative ways to deal with the issue.
As small as they are, mice can be gigantic pests, chewing through thousands of dollars worth of crops if left unchecked. The sheer number of them also means they are difficult to get rid of given it is often not viable to set up enough traps or baits to remove the population.
However, the agricultural industry is one of the fastest evolving in the world, and new technology has again stepped in to help solve the issue - this time in the form of drones.
Drone Commander Australia (DCA) has been fighting against the mouse plague for months, given the rodents were running riot in southern Queensland before crossing the border.
The company is now hoping to assist people in the Namoi Valley and New England area, and leading the charge is DCA chief pilot and former Gunnedah man Roger Woods, who wants to see the region remain a global powerhouse in the farming sector.
"I'm very keen to get into New South Wales and improve agriculture," he said.
"At the moment Brazil is leaving Australia well behind in terms of drone use in agriculture, and because Brazil are a major agricultural competitor I see that is a problem."
DCA has been looking at operating in NSW for quite some time, but were held up due to the Environmental Protection Agency requiring them to re-register so they could work in the state.
At the moment Brazil is leaving Australia well behind in terms of drone use in agriculture, and because Brazil are a major agricultural competitor I see that is a problem.
Mr Woods said that across the past eight months, his organisation has put down over 20 tonnes of zinc phosphide mouse bait. They drop about one kilogram per hectare and the drones typically carry loads of around 5 kilograms.
In Queensland, much of their work has been carried out at night, which not only targets the mice while they are up and active, but also minimises the "off-target damage" such as birds.
While business has been good, Mr Woods acknowledges the longevity of the plague has been heartbreaking for those living on the land.
"This mouse plague hasn't been run you over on the street sort of mice, it's just been persistent," he said.
"So we were dropping mouse bait into winter crops, and then we turned straight into dropping mouse bait into summer crops and we're still doing it.
While DCA is providing help to farmers, it has has also become a popular avenue of employment for 'COVID refugees'.
Among Mr Woods' team, there are a number of former large aircraft pilots who were laid off due to the impact coronavirus had on the aviation industry.
One of those is Richard Ohlrich, who lost his job at Tigerair after Virgin discontinued the airline.
He has now been a drone pilot for five months, and although the scenery has changed, he said much of the job feels quite familiar.
"It's been a big adjustment, I've had some background working in agriculture as a young man so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into," he said.
"There's a lot of transferrable skills from flying airliners to drones, I think that's why so many redundant pilots have taken to drone work.
"Discipline and following a fairly large set of rules, we're very procedure based and we're very task orientated types of people, so the role - whilst it's very different - has a lot of transferrable skills."
Mr Woods agreed with that sentiment, stating while he was disappointed people had lost their jobs, he was happy to be able to give them a new career and welcome such experienced members onto his team.
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