SLUGS have emerged as the major issue for recently sown crops right across the nation's cropping belt.
Canola producers are the most impacted by the pest but there are also reports of the pests targeting cereal crops.
Slugs have long been an endemic problem in high rainfall zones of Victoria and south-east South Australia but this year the wet conditions have meant there have been issues up into northern NSW.
Paul Umina, pest management specialist at Cesar Australia, said the seasonal conditions over the first half of 2022 meant there was always a high risk of slug pressure.
"We've had a mild and wet summer with plenty of gree material, we've also got heavy stubble residue from last year's big crop, so while nothing is certain we always felt there was a big risk of large numbers of slugs," Ass Prof Umina said.
In central Victoria agronomist Troy Driscoll, Driscoll Ag, said the mild summer with plenty of heavy stubbles from last year's crop meant slugs were a significant issue.
"We're seeing them in all crops, it is often worst in canola but this year we are seeing plenty of numbers in cereal crops," Mr Driscoll said.
"People are getting out there and baiting, especially on the canola as it is so valuable and you don't get a second chance if it is damaged at that critical time of emergence," he said.
He said the cost of baiting was significant.
"The cheaper baits are around $16 a hectare, that rises up to $40-60/ha for the better quality stuff," he said.
"When you compare to resowing or losing crop, though, it is worth the time and money."
He said bait was difficult to source.
"We're going hand to mouth, we've already got forward orders for product before it arrives, we're getting just enough but it is definitely hand to mouth."
Mr Driscoll said farmers were willing to go to significant lengths to get numbers to a manageable level not only for this year's crop but for years to come.
"We don't want to go into next year with a really high burden of slugs."
Wimmera farmer Tim Rethus said heavy stubble residues were the worst for slugs.
"We are keeping an eye on them as they can be so damaging and it appears the common link is more stubble residue than any particular soil type," Mr Rethus said.
"It is often a problem you see in the wetter areas but given the solid summer rain and the good autumn break there is a significant risk of damage through this region and even further to the north this year," he said.
Ass Prof Umina agreed slugs were presenting issues in areas normally not prone to slug damage.
"In the south, we've seen slugs in medium rainfall areas such as around Elmore in North Central Victoria, there have even been reports up into the Mallee."
The problem is not confined to the south-east, however.
On the Liverpool Plains in northern NSW agronomist Pete McKenzie, Quirindi, said farmers were working through managing the highest slug burden many could remember.
"They're a real problem in the canola here, especially where it has been sown into heavy cereal stubble," Mr McKenzie said.
"We don't necessarily have access to bait so farmers are trying to figure out alternative means of control if it is at all possible but it is definitely something everyone is keeping a real eye on.
"We've seen patches of paddocks where the damage has been significant and the growers have had to go back in and resow, given the high price of canola seed that is something everyone is trying hard to avoid."
Ass Prof Umina said slugs were not the only pest species causing issues in crops.
"Damage from other species such as slaters and millipedes can look very similar to slug damage so I'd urge farmers to really get out there and have a look to make sure they've identified the problem correctly."
He said farmers in areas where there had been a history of slug pressure were more experienced in handling the problem.
"Management strategies like burning or lowering stubble residue through grazing and early baiting can really help keep slug numbers in check."
The good news for growers is that slug pressure will lessen as conditions get colder.
"The plants will eventually outgrow the slug pressure but there may be significant damage before that happens," Ass Prof Umina said.
Gregor Heard is Fairfax Ag Media's national grains industry reporter, based in Horsham, Victoria. He has a wealth of knowledge surrounding the cropping sector through his ten years in the role. Prior to that he was with the Fairfax network as a reporter with Stock & Land. Some of the major issues he has reported on during his time with the company include the deregulation of the export wheat market, the introduction of genetically modified crops and the fight to protect growers better from grain trader insolvencies. Still involved with the family farm he is passionate about rural Australia and its people and hopes to use his role to act as an advocate for those involved in the grain sector. Away from work, he is a keen traveller, having spent his long service leave last year in Spain learning the language.
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