Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Crop devastation

Local farmers struggle with ducks and water hens.

December 25, 2012 4:50am

Ducks are wreaking havoc for local farmers, who are struggling to survive the irreversible damage they cause to rice crops.

Ducks forced Colin McCrabb to re-sow the entire rice crop at his Wanganella property.

Native black-tailed water hens are an issue in the Wakool area, which Department of Primary Industries agronomist John Fowler said were far more destructive.

Mr McCrabb said it was the most persistent he has seen the ducks in at least 15 years, and said they had cost him thousands of dollars.

Mr McCrabb had sown 46.5 hectares of rice on his ‘Shelbourne’ property in October, and a month later was forced to re-start his rice crop.

‘‘We sowed at the end of October and things were very quiet until about mid-November,’’ he said.

‘‘After we got about two days of rain the ducks started coming in.

‘‘I have never seen them so persistent. You lift them off, can spend an entire hour chasing them off, and an hour later they’re all back again.

‘‘On one occasion two bays were black, just chock-a-block full of ducks.’’

Mr McCrabb has found the ducks are arriving during the night and staying on the rice bays most of the day.

During November, Mr McCrabb said he noticed a large number of rice shoots and seeds washed up on the side of the bays.

He left the bays to drain a little before walking out through the mud to investigate the full extent of the duck damage.

He was devastated to find that not many seeds and shoots had been left in the ground.

And the damage occurred despite the McCrabbs using duck deterrents.

‘‘They had taken all of the seed out, even though we had duck lights and shooters.

‘‘I now have a duck light with a siren and scare guns, and we’re still having shooters come out on weekends.

‘‘I’m just lucky my son Angus is home to help keep the ducks moving, otherwise I’m not sure where I would be because I’m trying to sort out sheep for joining at the same time.’’

Mr McCrabb said the cost of the duck damage was well in excess of $10,000. He has been forced to buy two lots of seed, priced at $2500 each time, and two doses of chemical. He has also had to hire a plane in the sowing process twice, which he also estimated cost about $2500 each time.

Mr McCrabb said the ducks were still posing a significant threat to his rice crop, and he is not confident the rice will survive the influx.

He believes the increase in duck numbers this year is because of the healthy wetland environments in the Wanganella area.

He said with the nearby swamps full of water for more than 12 months, duck breeding had boomed.

Excess water in the system for a long period of time is also blamed for the insurgence of black native ducks in the Wakool area, according to farmer Greg Lodge.

‘‘We’ve got water hens in their thousands — they’re almost at plague proportions,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve gotten through my concerns, but they had been eating the grain originally, and then as the rice was growing eating off the top.

‘‘I had to camp out for a while.’’

Mr Fowler said the native hens were being termed ‘turbo chooks’ because of how quickly they can cause widespread damage.

‘‘The huge problem is the black tail water hens,’’ he said.

‘‘In the Wakool area some people are wondering if they may still have a future in rice as long as they are around.

‘‘Normal water ducks eat the grain, but these black hens eat the foliage and leave nothing behind them.

‘‘There have also been some complaints about the hens in the Bunnaloo and Caldwell areas.

‘‘These hens are the new kids on the block, and they are hitting hard with a vengeance.’’

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