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April 23 - 29, 2010
3The Independent Weekly
Locusts are considered a deli-
cacy in some parts of Africa
and Asia, where you might dine
on them deep-fried, baked in bread
or even coated in chocolate.
One caf in Mildura is also
finding the silver lining in the
locust cloud that has descended on
Australia by adding locust pizza to
But for South Australian farmers
watching their dreams of a bounti-
ful season being devoured by both
locusts and mice, there is no upside
to the plague and pestilence.
For the past three weeks, swarms
of locusts have been destroying
lawns and crops in the Riverland
and creating problems for drivers as
the insects fly into windscreens and
"Up until Easter I was thinking,
you beauty, there s plenty of feed
after the rain, then the locusts took
just two days to strip 121ha," said
Ian Cass, who owns a suffolk stud
at Wunkar. "They are completely
He said the locusts, which began
swarming after heavy rainfall in
south-east Queensland and NSW,
were a disaster for farmers who
were finally looking forward to a
lush growth period after years of
The locusts are also laying eggs.
Some of these are already hatching
because of the warm weather, and
there are fears of another outbreak
when more hatch next spring. Mr
Cass said he and his neighbours,
including large property owners
who would normally spend up
to $300,000 sowing crops, were
reluctant to plant.
"We can t afford to lose more. The
last really good year we had here
was 2003. Since then we have been
taking the tough end of the stick.
Most farmers are already feeling
the pinch and this will be the final
straw for some."
PIRSA Biosecurity locust field
operations manager Bruce Baker
said the problem was worst in the
Riverland, but locusts were also
swarming around Eyre Peninsula
and the state s mid-north.
"At this stage, there are reports
of damage to broadacre crops,
such as potatoes, as well as some
early-sown crops, such as wheat,
barley and oats," he said.
Loxton farmer Steve Nitschke
said spraying an individual
property had little effect. "We can
spray but you get 10 coming to the
funeral of every one that drops
dead," he said.
Mr Nitschke, who offers agist-
ment, said he had about eight
weeks worth of summer grass
feed for cattle before the locusts
"Now I would be lucky to get four
weeks. My neighbour had about
800ha of stock feed that was 12-15cm
high but the locusts have gone in
and destroyed it. There s nothing
left whatsoever except the weeds.
There s just billions of the things.
"We ve got a 90-year-old farmer
here who said he d never seen it so
bad in his life."
SA Farmers Federation president
Peter White said locusts are worst
round the Riverland and the top of
the Mallee. "About 4000 ha has been
virtually wiped out," he said.
In another blow for SA farmers,
the wet weather has also led to a
mice explosion in areas of the Eyre
Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula and
While the Department of
Water, Land and Biodiversity
Conservation has avoided using
the word "plague" in relation to the
mice, Mr White said the vermin
were in "plague numbers" around
He said they dig up newly sown
crops and also infest grain silos,
making the grain unsaleable.
The department s Dr John Virtue
said the scale of the mice problem
across SA would become clearer as
sowing began around mid to late
"Mice tend to invade paddocks
where grain has been split or where
there is still heavy stubble from
last harvest, and they can cause
substantial agricultural losses and
animal health issues in livestock,"
he said. "Management of mice rests
primarily with farmers."
Those farmers are now left
wondering when Father Nature will
give them a break.
Swarm weather: Locusts cover the front of a truck in the Riverland.
Photo: The Murray Pioneer
A plague of pestilence
The floodwaters travelling
downstream from Queensland are
bringing new life to the rivers, lakes
and wetlands around Innamincka,
but they are also attracting some
Feral pigs, which have a low
tolerance for heat and thrive in
lush conditions, are moving south
along the Cooper Creek, posing a
significant threat to SA s biodiver-
sity and agricultural industry.
The Department of Environment
and Heritage (DEH) recently
removed 50 pigs from around
Innamincka and Coongie Lakes,
which are recognised as interna-
tionally significant wetlands.
The pigs hunt ground-nesting
birds, turtles, lizards, frogs and
other native animals. Their digging
damages native plants, causes
erosion and destroys wildlife
habitats. Feral pigs also carry
parasites and diseases that can be
transmitted to domestic stock and
"Feral pigs are the second most
economically destructive pest to the
agricultural industry following rab-
bits," said DEH regional ecologist
"They also present a potentially
serious public safety risk due to
their aggressive nature, physical
size and tusks."
A wild sow can weigh up to 100kg,
while boars may reach more than
Mr Clarke said there were
between four million and 23 million
feral pigs in Australia. Numbers
vary greatly because the animals
are opportunistic breeders. They
prefer wet conditions, which can
see their population increase
fivefold in a year.
"In another year you will see
hundreds of them around the
waterholes. They have a similar
breeding rate to rabbits," Mr Clarke
There were pigs aboard the First
Fleet in 1788. Later ships brought
still more. Feral pigs have been in
the Cooper Creek area since the
early 1900s, but Mr Clarke said
numbers increased after the big
Queensland floods of the late 1980s
and early 1990s.
Feral peril: invaders threaten SA wetlands
Wild pigs in the
Regional Reser ve.
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