Cane-side revegetation projects reduce rats

Julie Lightfoot
March 5, 2018

Riverside revegetation projects in the Wet Tropics are solving rat problems for cane farmers.

Growers and researchers have reported a 70 to 100 per cent reduction in rat numbers after tree planting initiatives on land between cane crops and waterways.

Growers who are involved say crop damage from rats is largely a thing of the past.

Woopen Creek cane farmer Frank Gatti began planting trees 25 years ago at a time when rats were destroying up to 20m of cane either side of a creek on his land each harvest season.

He and his brother Stephen collaborated with the Bureau of Sugar Experimental Station and Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to revegetate 3.5km of land as a 30-40m strip between cane and creek on their property just north of Innisfail.

An 80 per cent reduction in the rat population was recorded within 12 months.

“There was no grass for the rats anymore,’’ Frank said. “As part of the trial, we initially left some sections of grass and during the trial rats were captured in those areas, while there was virtually nil capture where we had revegetated.”

Terrain NRM’s Bruce Corcoran said there were many benefits for landholders and the environment.

“Watercourses that are revegetated are much healthier, with habitat for beneficial birds and animals, with shade helping to remove choking grass and sediment build-up,’’ Mr Corcoran said.

“This improves water quality and allows clean-flowing water to provide diverse habitats in our farming landscape and in our Reef catchments.”

Ingham cane farmer Lawrence DiBella said the benefits were four-fold for his property – the revegetation project has reduced the rat population by 70 per cent, created a buffer for flood debris so it no longer ends up in his cane crop, encouraged native wildlife such as sea eagles and owls which eat rats, and improved the amenity of his property.

The DiBella family began tree planting in 1994. They now have about 1.5km of riverbank land under trees, varying from 10 to 40m in thickness depending on the area.

For Tully cane farmer Brice Henry, it was as simple as taking advantage of a local council-run revegetation program more than 30 years ago where a team came onto properties and undertook the plantings and the initial maintenance work.

He is now considering revegetating another strip of land between cane crops and a different creek.

Trees planted as part of the program are 12m high and the rainforest area has increased thanks to seeds coming in with bird populations.

“Before the project, we would lose cane on both sides of the creek,’’ Brice said. “We used to burn the grass out, but still have a rat problem.”

The drop in rat numbers was significant within four to five years, and the last 15 to 20 years have been almost rat-free on the Henry farm.

Brice said the project also stopped re-growth of pest plants hymenacne and para grass.