Silent pest devastates rural properties
Recent rains are helping a pest breed in South Australia and causing an expensive fight for farmers.
Landholders on Yorke Peninsula are bracing for a bad snail season, as the molluscs breed and spread.
Four types of snails cause headaches for grain farmers on southern Yorke Peninsula and some cool, wet autumns have made the problem worse than ever, says Warooka farmer Graham Hayes.
“All my life there’s been snails on the property, but it wasn’t until 1998 when we had a significant problem,” he said.
“We had grain rejected at the silo and that’s usually when people sit up and take notice they’ve got a problem.”
Mr Hayes spent $48,000 on metaldahyde bait last year.
He baited some crop areas three times but still lost out to the snails.
The farmer is spending tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours over time running cables through harvested crop stubble, crushing snails between giant steel rollers and cleaning and screening his grain.
He says some farmers in the region have given up the fight and put their properties on the market.
“There are thousands of acres of property down here that is for sale currently and has been for two or three years,” he said.
“I have been around long enough to know that the land that’s for sale, a significant reason is because of the snails.
“They (farmers) can’t produce enough off that land without a huge cost and so it’s all too hard.”
The snails were introduced accidentally, probably in ship ballast, some time last century.
They are from the Mediterranean region and there are the four breeds; two round and two conical-shaped snails.
Crushed snail is a recipe for cement basically. It makes a hell of a mess of the crop
Dr Geoff Baker
Trials funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation have had some success with a snail-eating nematode.
Researchers have been pegging out Mr Hayes’ property again in recent days for a new round of trials.
The nematode is a parasite native to Australia. When put among the snails, it can eat the mollusc from the inside out.
Early results from a previous trial in 2010 did not show a kill rate high enough to make the nematode a useful option.
But Yorke Peninsula agronomic consultant, Bill Long, said more recent results were promising.
“The researchers are certainly getting a lot closer to identifying the specific types of nematodes that will do the job on the snails,” he said.
“There are some some further challenges ahead with that program. It’s not a chemical, this is a live nematode we have to apply to the paddocks so we have to work out ways by which that can occur.”
While the snails are possibly at their worst on the lower Yorke Peninsula, they are also a pest in other grain-growing regions, such as the south-east of South Australia and on Eyre Peninsula.
CSIRO entomologist Dr Geoff Baker said the problem was spreading to other states, with Geraldton in Western Australia, parts of southern New South Wales and parts of western Victoria now affected by the pest.
Farmers say the snails get caught in their harvesting equipment, ruining machinery and contaminating harvests.
“Crushed snail is a recipe for cement basically,” said Dr Baker. “It makes a hell of a mess of the crop.”
– The full story is on Landline on Sunday at noon on ABC1
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