Thursday 18th Aug, 2022

Surviving the vermin tide

Following years of drought, fire, floods and pestilence, eastern Australia is now facing a mouse plague. Stevie Leigh Morrison and Karen Jolly from HE Silos explain how proper on-farm storage keeps farmers’ money in the bank.

Following years of drought, fire, floods and pestilence, eastern Australia is now facing a mouse plague. Stevie Leigh Morrison and Karen Jolly from HE Silos explain how proper on-farm storage keeps farmers’ money in the bank.

Rural eastern Australia is in the grips of mouse plague that locals say has grown to biblical levels.

As the drought began to break in certain areas of the country, farmers benefitted from a bountiful harvest. However, Karen Jolly, Regional Sales Manager – Grain Storage at HE Silos, says it meant that farmers were dealing with storage issues relating to the mouse plague.

“The last harvest was huge, breaking records all over the place, but farmers were limited when it came to how to store that grain,” she says.

“As a result, they’ve had to store their excess grain in sheds, bags, trucks or wherever it would fit.”

According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), where there are grain crops in Australia, there are usually mice. The rodents are prolific breeders, able to give birth to a litter of up to 10 offspring every 20 days and can fall pregnant as soon as they give birth.

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The CSIRO says that often, they reach near plague proportions before farmers are even aware of the problem, and at that stage it becomes difficult and costly to control.

“A mouse population density of about 800-1000 mice/ha is considered a mouse plague. Anything over 200 mice/ha is said to cause economic damage,” the CSIRO said.

The last major mouse plague Australia suffered occurred in 2010/11 and affected three million hectares of crops in eastern Australia.

Steve Henry, CSIRO ecologist, said in a 2017 blog post that there are three key factors that can contribute to a plague – climate, food and breeding.

“Because mice aren’t spending all their time hunting for food, they have time to get down to business and procreate,” he said.

On-farm storage is becoming more popular, according to Stevie Leigh Morrison, Business Manager at HE Silos.

“In 2016, around 70 per cent of grain was stored on the farm. This has gone up much higher since,” she says.

“Farmers want better control of their future and their business. They want to be able to market their grain when its profitable instead of selling it to a bulk storage handler at harvest.

“There’s a need to farm smarter, not harder. You need to look at the big picture, capitalise on grain operations and find out how to have as much control over the grain as possible to get the best return on investment.”

HE Silos manufactures silos ranging from four-tonnes to cone base designs with capacities of up to 500 tonnes and flat bottom units of up to 1000 tonnes. It specialises in creating custom silos, designed to fit any application.

It services more than just the grain industry, building silos for breweries, flour mills, plastics, and even to store small Styrofoam balls used in beanbag manufacturing.

The company designs its silos to last, using some of the thickest materials in the industry to ensure each silo can withstand Australia’s harsh conditions. Some of the company’s silos have been in operation for more than 30 years and continue to operate efficiently.

Sealed silos help protect grain from mice and other rodents, along with other pests and insects that destroy the quantity and quality of the crop.

Morrison says that fumigation is vital for keeping grains at a high quality.

“Research has found insects and other pests to be the number one cause of grain degradation,” she says. “If we could reduce grain lost from insect activity by two per cent, that would equate to around half-a-billion dollars in Australia’s grain market.”

This is why the company developed its thermal insect control system. Traditionally, farmers would need to climb to the top of the silo to drop the fumigants into the silos. Morrison says this adds unnecessary risks, as it requires someone to carry dangerous chemicals up the length of the silo.

The thermal insect control system is installed at chest level, removing the requirement to climb anything. Once the chemicals have been placed into the chamber, ultraviolet light and thermal air currents help the fumigants flow around the silo.

Morrison says the company’s silos are 100 per cent compliant with the Australian Standards, especially when it comes to sealing.

“All of our silos are built and pressure tested using the five minute half-life test set out in the Australian Standards for the chemicals usage,” she says.

“When delivered on farm, we do an additional test to show the customers that it has met the standards, and it gives us an opportunity to teach the customer how to do a pressure test as well.”

A core part of HE Silo’s after sales service is education, which is why it provides a platform for anyone in the industry to learn more about how to get the most out of a silo.

Jolly says HE Silos is a family business and knows that farmers also don’t operate on a nine to five schedule.

“We’re always there to help our customers – even if it’s on a weekend,” she says. “Just because it’s a Saturday doesn’t mean farmers aren’t working. Taking five minutes out of my day to solve a problem our customers might be having makes everyone’s lives easier.”

“Our customer retention is high – they’re growing their operations and coming back to us knowing we offer quality and safety.”