This Non-Toxic Technique to Help Farmers Reduce Wheat Crop Losses Caused by Mice
The researchers discovered that spraying wheat crops with a diluted wheat germ oil solution during and after sowing resulted in 63 percent fewer stolen wheat seeds compared to untreated controls. Moreover, when the same solution was sprayed on the wheat plot before planting, seed loss was further reduced by an impressive 74 percent.
A groundbreaking study conducted by scientists at the University of Sydney has revealed that a non-toxic technique can effectively reduce seed loss in wheat crops by deterring mice. The findings, published in the journal 'Nature Sustainability,' present a potential game-changer in the management of crop damage caused by mouse plagues, which have been estimated to cost Australian crops approximately $1 billion in 2021, according to NSW Farmers.
Led by PhD student Finn Parker, the research team, which included Professor Peter Banks, Dr Catherine Price, and Jenna Bytheway from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and School of Life and Environmental Sciences, developed a method that could revolutionize the way mice-related crop losses are tackled.
The researchers discovered that spraying wheat crops with a diluted wheat germ oil solution during and after sowing resulted in 63 percent fewer stolen wheat seeds compared to untreated controls. Moreover, when the same solution was sprayed on the wheat plot before planting, seed loss was further reduced by an impressive 74 percent. This was attributed to the fact that mice had learned to disregard the scent of unrewarding wheat by the time the crop was planted.
Professor Banks explained, "We found we could reduce mice damage even during plague conditions simply by making it hard for mice to find their food, by camouflaging the seed odor. Because they’re hungry, they can’t spend all their time searching for food that’s hard to find." By creating an environment where the smell of the seeds was widespread, the mice were discouraged from digging and were prompted to search for alternative food sources.
The researchers believe that this misinformation tactic could be applied effectively in other crop systems and may work against any animal that relies on smell to locate food. This innovative approach has significant potential in mitigating crop damage caused by mice plagues.
Finn Parker emphasized the applicability of the camouflage treatment for wheat growers, particularly due to wheat's short vulnerability period. He stated, "The camouflage appeared to last until after the seeds germinated, which is the period of vulnerability when wheat needs to be protected. Most mouse damage occurs from when seeds are sown up to germination, just under two weeks later."
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Importantly, mice cannot develop resistance to this method since it exploits the same odor they rely on to locate wheat seeds. The researchers conducted the study in May 2021 on a farm located 10 kilometers northwest of Pleasant Hills, New South Wales. They tested five treatments across 60 plots, with two treatments involving the wheat germ oil solution and the remaining three serving as controls (canola oil, trampled, and untreated). The treated plots exhibited significantly less damage compared to the control plots, which performed similarly.
Wheat germ oil, a relatively inexpensive by-product of the milling process, serves as the key ingredient in the solution. The authors highlighted that their sustainable approach, consisting of wheat germ oil diluted in water, provides a non-lethal and environmentally friendly alternative to pesticides and baits.
Dr. Price stated, "If people want to control mice but can’t get numbers down low enough, our technique can be a potent alternative to pesticides or add value to existing methods." With the potential to minimize crop losses and offer farmers a more sustainable means of managing mice plagues, this pioneering technique could revolutionize the agricultural industry's approach to pest control.
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