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Mouse plague win for farmers as NSW government promises $50 million in aid

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Farmers have won their battle against a devastating mice infestation after pressuring the NSW government to release $50 million in financial aid. Farming advocates were hopeful that the money, which would come from free grain treatment for farmers and rebates for rural residents buying bait, would help stem the ongoing mouse plague. The refunds would be worth $500 for households and $1000 for small businesses. The pests have multiplied rapidly for several months, helped by the same summer rains that came as a relief for drought-stricken farmers.

The rodents have overrun rural towns and farms and sometimes destroyed entire crops. Many farmers have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into buying poison to kill the rodents chewing through their feed, plants, and equipment. The promise of money for baiting against the pests comes after two senior Nationals ministers went on the attack against NSW Farmers, one of the organizations pleading for financial help. Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall and Deputy Premier John Barilaro accused the organization of pulling a PR stunt after convening a briefing at parliament on Tuesday that clashed with a joint party room meeting. Neither the minister nor any other government MP attendo the mouse plague briefing.

When asked why, Mr. Marshall told NCA NewsWire the organization had “refused” to move the meeting, which NSW Farmers later denied. He also said the organization was “more interested in a headline than a genuine solution”. Opposition MPs seized those comments on Wednesday, asking Mr. Barilaro if he agreed with the minister’s attack. Mr. Barilaro responded by doubling down. “(NSW Farmers chief executive) Peter Arkle jumped in front of a camera and politicized an issue,” Mr. Barilaro said. Mr. Marshall, in his initial comments, also said subsidies for bait were “not the most effective way forward” and that “farmers on the ground” had told him that tools were needed rather than money.

“No amount of money could ever wipe out the mice impacting farmers in parts of the state,” Mr. Marshall said. Then on Thursday morning, came the backflip. “We have heard the concerns of regional NSW, and we are acting on it,” Mr. Barilaro said in a joint statement with Mr. Marshall announcing the $50 million mouse plague package. Mr. Marshall said he had seen first-hand the scale of the problem. “They are a scourge on our agricultural production, so we are giving landholders a fearsome suite of tools to manage mice,” he said. “Today’s announcement of free baits to treat grain almost completely removes the cost burden on our farmers and croppers and complements our popular workshops to arm farmers with the tools needed to build a mice-free fortress to protect their paddocks.”

NSW Farmers president James Jackson said he was pleased there would be some relief for farmers. “We’re happy the government is listening,” he said. “There will be some here-and-now relief, but we still need to see long-term mice management into the future.” He said the question time attack on Mr. Arkle was “inappropriate”. “It’s inappropriate to attack staff who lobby on behalf of farmers,” he said. “If there’s a problem with NSW Farmers, it’s fine to attack me; I’m the president and ultimately responsible for the organization. This is excellent news, but let’s remember the plague won’t end tomorrow, and farmers have already spent millions staving it off.”

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