Summer harvest is just about done this year on the farm. And while the stress of that time of the year is winding up, the beginning of the next crop year is starting all over again.
When we sat down last fall to make decisions surrounding our acres, we had no idea how much dirt we were going to have to work this year. But we have come up against a pest that is forcing our hand and is changing our plans. Many of our tall fescue fields are slated to stay in the ground 7-10 years. This year however we are taking out a lot of acres before that end date due to one small, tiny, seemingly innocent little pest; the vole.
We have voles every year. More often they are referred to as field mice. They are a nuisance, something that we try every year to control with bait. But this year, two to three weeks before harvest, their population exploded in our fields, and they began to quickly eat our crop.
We estimate that our worst hit fields lost about 30% in yield. Other farmers said they figured around 50-60% of their seed crop was destroyed by mouse damage. I’ve even heard that some fields weren’t even worth the diesel in the harvester to harvest the field. Which is heartbreaking.
So we have made the decision to take out some of our worst hit fields and use our last resort for control; habitat destruction. In other words we will be working up these fields, destroying the colonies where the mice live, and setting back their population. Also hoping that the population peaked and will go down to normal levels, saving the fields that we left in for harvest 2021.
As a farmers we often face new challenges from year to year. A few years ago we had army worms marching across our fields eating aces and acres of grass in a matter of days. Other years we have seen slugs decimate fields during a wet fall. All these challenges come unpredictably, so they can be difficult to prepare for. Mix that along with weather patterns that can make control options limited, it can be a challenge to protect your crops.
I haven’t heard of any earth shattering ways to kill vole populations that live and thrive underground. Beyond hiring a clowder (yeah I googled it….that’s a group of cats) of cats or a kettle (also googled) of hawks we don’t have a lot of options. We have the bait that we have always used and will be using that as much as we can on fields left in for next year’s harvest. But many times our hands are tied because our tools aren’t effective enough or work quickly enough when pressure is that high. Another good reason why farmers need “tools in their toolbox” when it comes to pest management.
I’m sure next year we will find ourselves with yet another challenge. Maybe it will be something like grass seed eating zombies. You know, something that has more proven science about how to kill them. Unless zombies eat voles….hmmmmm.