For Tracy Blackburn, seeing a flood of mice swarming around the grains silo last year or having others drop on her head while cleaning up the stench of dead ones was a hellish experience.
A repeat of a mouse plague on a grand scale and losing income is something she would not wish on others after recent reports of a pocket of sightings in some parts of the region.
"They're little buggers interfering with anything outside, in silo bags, in the grains' shed, dog biscuits, chewing wires in your tractor...when are they gonna end just goes through your mind," said Ms Blackburn, whose family runs wheat cropping and cattle and sheep grazing outside of Dubbo.
The family's main source of information is the online MouseAlert run by the NSW Department of Primary Industries' Centre for Invasive Species Solution, working alongside CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) scientists and researchers.
The online alert showed scientists collected 753 incidents of mice activity in NSW and across the country in recent months.
The worst affected this year is Western Australia's wheat belt which has not experienced a mouse plague in 35 years.
CSIRO scientist Dr Peter Brown said a national mouse alert team has been formed to avert another plague.
The team is assisting affected farmers to collect comparable data on recent mouse activities, particularly in some parts of WA where the "numbers are pretty high" and farmers needed tools "to bridge the economic impact they're suffering."
In NSW, MouseAlert has shown mice in large numbers, but not yet in plague proportion. The mice appear to be breeding in parts of Queensland, near Melbourne and Adelaide, but only slightly around NSW and our region.
"National monitoring is happening right now but it's not in the same situation as last year in the central west and northern NSW because the mouse numbers are not relatively high. Farmers are baiting but isolated instances are being monitored until we have a better picture," Dr Brown said.
MouseAlert monitoring program created by CSIRO
The Blackburns regularly monitor MouseAlert where they get the latest locations of sightings of rodents recently detected in nearby farms in Cowra and Nyngan.
CSIRO designed the mouse monitoring program due to persistent mouse problems on grain farms.
Their extensive work was funded by the Department of Primary Industries, Grains Research and Development Corporation and Landcare Research New Zealand.
They created an app, which was launched eight years ago for farmers to report sightings. It allows scientists to quickly forecast outbreaks to avoid a repeat of the plagues in 1993 and in 2010 when an estimated three million hectares of crops were destroyed in NSW, Victoria, and South Australia.
What the Blackburns' have recently heard through MouseAlert has been also confirmed by Dubbo MP and NSW agriculture minister, Dugald Saunders that "there has been a slight increase in mice activity across the northern and southern parts of the state with some landholders applying bait post sowing."
He said the levels of mice activity were being closely monitored by his department alongside the CSIRO team of scientists and researchers working with his department and attached agencies.
This winter before sowing crops, Mr Saunders has encouraged landholders to monitor mice activity on their properties using "chew cards" recommended by the DPI and Local Land Services.
Helpline advising farmers on poisoning and health
The NSW Environment Protection Authority also took a step ahead to assist in taking swift action with local farmers to avoid another disastrous mouse plague.
Last month, the EPA regulatory operations have advised farmers to start baiting rodents "to get number under control" also warning them or anyone baiting rodents to do it safely and correctly to avoid poisoning.
The EPA advice also reminded farmers of "misusing baits [that] can put a family, neighbours, pets, and wildlife at risk, especially the practice of mixing and blending pesticides." Farmers must also follow directions on bait and pesticide labels.
The Western NSW Local Health District has established a helpline after last year's mouse plague raised concerns about rodent-borne infectious disease and the safety of water in rainwater tanks used by households in towns without piped running water.
With a large swathe of grain farms in NSW regions at risk from a resurgence of a mouse plague, Mr Saunders said affected farmers, households, and small businesses were provided a $150 million support package which also included up to $10,000 in rebates to purchase zinc phosphide for bait.
Dr Brown said mouse plague can only be confirmed if every hectare has more than 800 mice breeding rapidly, and mice are prolific breeders every 10 days producing up to 20 heads.
The CSIRO has encouraged farmers to avoid farming practices that provide breeding grounds for mice such as no-till farming, minimise food availability for mice after harvesting, and monitor mice activity during sowing and harvesting seasons.
"There are a couple of things in the toolbox for farmers and one is the use of zinc phosphide for baiting recommended in sowing and harvesting, encouraging farmers to harvest as cleanly as possible because any residual grain or feed on the ground builds mice population."
The CSIRO has also established 130 monitoring sites across the states and a National Mouse Group with farmers and agronomists working hand-in-hand "to put together a holistic picture of the mice alert across the country," Dr Brown said.
Ms Blackburn said they've constantly dealt with vermin on their farm and the problems they caused and are now well aware of what to do right from the start they grew wheat.
"We're dealing with mice on a day-to-day basis, we know what to do and we don't just stand around waiting for assistance...you go out and do what you can with the resources you have at the time," she said.
"We don't only deal with mice, we also have a business to keep going because you have to pay everyone working on the farm."
The week prior to the interview with the Daily Liberal, Ms Blackburn said she smelled dead rats they baited in previous days pervading the air.
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