AGRICULTURAL workers have been struggling with the mice plague in NSW for nearly six months now, and the problem is beginning to take a significant emotional toll.
It had been hoped rain followed by a cold snap would have already dealt with the issue, but weather has not been on the side of farmers.
A predicted mild winter is now looming as a disaster, because if a large portion of the current population survives the cold season, they could explode even beyond current levels by next year.
Gunnedah farmer Geoffrey Barker admitted he had serious concerns after seeing the damage they had caused to his crops this season, which has cost him more than $100,000 after around half his yield was affected by mice.
As a veteran of farming, Mr Barker has witnessed and fought many different plagues, and said this reminded him of one of the worst in memory which occurred more than 35 years ago.
"They're decimating the sunflower crop... I remember back in 1984 they marched into the sunflower and sorghum crops and we stripped it wet, but they still got about two-thirds of it that time," he said.
Alex Laurie, also from Gunnedah, is battling his first major mice plague on the family farm which produces barley and oat, and said he has been astounded with how bad the issue has got in recent weeks.
"Over the last few months it's been more of a nuisance and it's only been in the last two or three weeks that they've started to become more of a problem," he said.
"The last few weeks they've started to make a mess by getting into any seed that's laying around, getting under anything they can live under and getting into machinery and stuff like that.
"They haven't caused any serious damage to me yet, but I have planted a heap of crops and they are affecting the crops and digging up the seeds."
After initially playing the 'wait and see' game, also anticipating a helpful weather event, the state government has now acted and introduced a $50 million support package.
The scheme includes free baiting and rebates, although farmers have mixed feelings about the announcement.
Mr Barker said he was glad to receive help but wasn't keen to begin "paperwork warfare" in order to secure a rebate, which he said was an issue when securing funding throughout the drought.
He would like to see funds given directly to every household or business within affected areas, and also wants to see the criteria changed.
Currently, funds will be available from July and rebates will only apply to money spent after May 13, which has irked some farmers.
Mr Laurie, however, said he did not expect the government to be able to solve the problem for him.
"I'm not chasing rebates off the government, I don't think the government is in a position where it should be propping up farmers," he said.
"If they're willing to help then if it comes down to a bit of paperwork to get that help then as a farmer I'm more than happy to fill out paperwork, I don't think as farmers we're entitled to handouts off the government."
He said that because the mice plague is a natural phenomenon, he understands it is difficult to handle for the government and doesn't believe they should be solely responsible for dealing with the issue.
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