On the eve of the summer grains planting season, farmers have been asked to report breeding and roosting sites of red-billed queleas to the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) so that the flocks can be controlled.
The onus rests on farmers and landowners to report these sites, Agri Northern Cape exco member Hoffie Joubert pointed out. “They are required by law to report the spots and I call on them to do so. We need to control the impact of queleas as a matter of urgency,” he said.
Red-billed queleas are responsible for considerable wheat, millet and sorghum losses in South Africa and these are seemingly on the increase, according to Grain SA sorghum working group chairman, Louis Claassen.
“An average quelea swarm decreases yields from 5t/ha to 1t/ha. A single swarm can destroy more than half a sorghum block in a single day. This is a serious problem, as is evident in the damage caused in the area around Parys and Koppies where I farm.
“The problem has escalated because large-scale grain production ensures a constant food source for the birds throughout the year. However, the department is very supportive about controlling the birds,” he told Farmer’s Weekly.
The department is responsible for the control of the birds in terms of the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act 43 of 1983.
Colin Burke from the department’s Directorate for Land Use and Soil Management and Migratory Pest Control Division said it was believed that one million red-billed queleas consumed four tons of grain a day in non-breeding periods.
“Take this amount and multiply it with an average cost of, for instance, wheat per ton that can be harvested, and the problem can be seen in monetary value. The department annually controls about 80 million birds. “The birds prefer crops in their milky stage as these are easier to feed on with their small beaks,” he said.
The department employs two control methods: chemical aerial spraying and fuel air explosives. The first entails spraying an organophosphate chemical in the evening when the birds have returned to their roosting or breeding spots.
In the second method, a registered contractor detonates explosives in the evening at the birds’ roosts. “Our policy is not to eradicate these birds as they have a role to play in the environment. I do not know the number of birds in the country – it varies from year to year. “The birds migrate according to the rainfall throughout Africa,” said Burke. – Annelie Coleman
The red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea) is the most numerous wild bird in the world, with an estimated population of 1,5 billion.
ABRÉ J STEYN