A DESTRUCTIVE rat infestation tearing across the Herbert sugarcane region has caused extensive crop damage and farmers have been given limited options to combat the problem.
Rat numbers across the region have exploded due to the lack of any significant rain or flooding events that would ordinarily flood burrows.
Additionally, this season the region was left with an estimated 400,000-500,000 tonnes of standover cane, creating an ideal environment for rat reproduction.
Herbert Cane Productivity Services Limited Manager Lawrence Di Bella said the rat situation was serious with the industry expecting to lose more than 100,000 tonnes of cane in the 2023, equating to almost a $5 million loss to the industry and the local community.
“Why do we have a rat plague on our hands at present? The region has experienced four successive flood free wet seasons which usually drowns the pest, recently a prolonged wet season that did not allow growers to control weeds on farm that feed the rats and over 400,000 tonnes of cane that could not be harvested in 2022 to be left to harvest in 2023- the perfect storm.
“It is envisaged that the rat plague will continue in 2024, if management decisions are not made now to manage this pest.”
Hinchinbrook MP and KAP Deputy Leader, Nick Dametto MP, said he wrote to the Hon. Mark Furner, Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries, seeking governmental assistance, but claimed the response was nothing more than dismissive.
“Not only did the Minister deny an offer of any government assistance, he took his response one step further by acknowledging the high probability of winter rain again this year that would ultimately create another year of perfect rat breeding conditions,” he said.
“The fact that the Minister acknowledged the existence of a very serious problem and identified there is potential for it to get worse, but still opted to do nothing simply beggars belief.
“It devastates me that we have an Agricultural Minister who’s actually done nothing but actively aid the demise of primary industries across Queensland.”
Minister Furner said that rats are not a declared species and, as with many other pests, “control is the responsibility of the landholder”.
“A range of control options are available and landholders should consult with their local agricultural agent or pest controller,” he said.
“Local governments must also have biosecurity plans that include programs for controlling invasive plants and animals in their area.”
Mr Di Bella said the rats have been actively observed colonising recently harvested cane blocks across the district, setting up the industry for further pain next year.
“The industry needs a well-coordinated cross farms management approach to get on top of this issue,” he said.
“The government has granted approvals to bait but the cost and magnitude of the problem is too significant for individual farmers to deal with.
“Farmers are not asking for a handout, they are just asking for some assistance to manage a pest that knows no property boundaries.”
The Queensland sugar industry injected $2.3 billion into the Queensland economy in the 2020-21 financial year according to Mr Dametto and despite this, he claims the State Government is turning their backs on the industry that feeds them.
“Rat and mice plagues are not new threats to Australian crops and in years gone by, the Queensland and New South Wales Governments have offered financial support for baiting programs – if it’s been done in the past, I don’t see why it can’t be done again.
“I will continue to lobby the Minster and make him aware that this problem won’t go away with unless a group or sub-district wide baiting program is implemented.
“Canegrowers in the district need assistance to get on top of this issue now, before it inevitably gets much worse, or heaven forbid when the risk to human life escalates.”
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