JJ van de Velde is appealing to scientists and other farmers for help identifying and controlling the mystery rodent species overrunning his lands. To other farmers facing the same problem, he can at least offer a trap that works. Lloyd Phillips reports.
Maize, wheat and seed potato producer JJ van de Velde, of the Fort Nottingham area of the KZN Midlands, is urgently seeking advice on how to deal with an infestation of a rodent species he has, as yet, been unable to identify. The rodents are causing considerable damage to his land and young maize. S oon after JJ bought his farm in 2000, he found a concentration of what appeared to be rodent burrows over a 5ha area of his land. When he asked other local farmers if they were having the same problem, surprisingly few replied that they were. “The farmers around me simply call them gerbils, but I’m struggling to find any concrete information confirming this name as correct. If I could only identify the species, I’d be able to find out more about their habits and how to deal with them better,” JJ says.
JJ has found these rodents tend to be very active at night. While they cause direct damage by feeding on maize seedlings, their burrowing also causes extensive damage to mature maize and other crops. T heir many interlinking burrows dry out the soil, promote weed growth, cause the lodging of standing crops and even create a headache for planting and harvesting equipment. JJ says a front wheel of his combine harvester once became lodged in a shallow sinkhole caused by the burrows. The burrows under the surface make the soil feel “mushy” when walked on, even when it’s bone dry. “now have massive patches of burrows on my land where crops should be growing,” laments JJ. “This infestation is costing me a fortune in wasted inputs like seed that can’t grow and fertilisers with no crops to fertilise.”
An effective trap
JJ says that there are simply too many rodents for owls and other raptors, jackal and small predators to effectively control. He has placed rat pellets in all of the burrows, but the following morning he finds them lying uneaten. has also fumigated the burrows with phostoxin (aluminium phosphide), but says it’s difficult to tell if treatment works.
He believes fumigation actually flushed the rodents into another of his fields. “eventually became so desperate tried an idea one of my neighbours told me about,” he relates. “first cut a number of 25â„“ drums in half along their width. “Then bent number 8 wire lengths into U-shapes, drilled a hole through one end of a lot of maize cobs that still had their kernels on, and threaded each length of wire through a cob. buried half drums at various points around my infested fields, with the open top ends level with the soil surface, and added about 20cm of water into each half drum. hung