Jan 10, 2015

Farmers And Food Plots

By: Steve Jordan

Years ago, the farmer that rented my field could not understand why I would stick my time and money into planting crops for the wildlife.  He claimed that he feeds the wildlife unintentionally every year.  He also claimed the damage the wildlife causes was a direct loss to his yield and profit.  Both statements are accurate.  Let’s break them down.  He feeds the wildlife every year unintentionally. Okay, his crop is usually corn or soybeans and is only available during our Wisconsin growing season (May through October).  During these months the animals have a lot of choices.  The trees and brush have greened up and the grasses in the open areas and the field edges are young and tasty.  Even a large variety of weeds are nutritious.  In other words, there is an abundance of food available between May and October. 

What about November through April?  The farmer’s field is now made up of soybean stubble, corn stubble, or even worse (from a wildlife perspective) is a plowed field.  If you think about it, if our grocery stores were seasonal (closing for the winter) we would have to really rough it; some of us wouldn’t survive. 

Food plots offer food much longer into the winter.  Turnip mixes, wheat, and rye offer greens for the deer to dig up.  Corn and soybeans have seeds to offer for awhile, along with cover.  During most winters, the lower soybean pods freeze in.  In the spring, when the ice and snow starts to melt, the soybean stalks heat up from the sun and the lower pods are exposed at a crucial time for feeding.  Also, some corn cobs that were knocked off and frozen in the snow are fresh and available during that spring thaw.  This is what a good food plot has to offer for the wildlife versus a plowed field or stubble. 

The farmer’s second claim of wildlife damage to his field being a direct loss to his yield and profit, as accurate as it is, can be reduced with a good food plot nearby.  A field of soybeans, for example, as great as it is for food value, is one dimensional.  A food plot placed near or running the edge of that field, planted with a variety of crops, will keep deer in a food plot longer than in a field.  I would follow up with strips of soybeans planted three weeks apart to keep the deer out of his field and eating on the youngest and most tender plants (mine) for most of the growing season.  The farmer would then surely comment on how well that worked out for him.

A lot of smaller farms have been sold as hunting land over the last few decades.  The farmable land is usually rented out to a larger cash crop farmer.  Most owners of the hunting land want some sort of food plots along with the rented out land.  I am able to help out some of the farmers in my area to plant food plots for the owners or leasers of the land.  The large cash crop farmers don’t have the time or the background of attracting deer in most cases.  In some cases, I can round a square corner of a field for a food plot.  Also, I have squared up an oddly shaped field for the farmer and planted food plots in the irregularities.  Or, I have simply taken the edge of a field (approximately 50 feet wide) and planted a food plot the entire length.  One client had a grassy lane along the edge of the field.  This lane wound its way around for ¾ of a mile.  We turned it into a plush food plot that he can still drive on by keeping his tires in the same spot each time.  I can’t tell you who owns this lane because Moe would not be happy with me.

One interesting side note comes from a visit I had from a semi-retired farmer friend.  He came to visit and tour my food plots.  His sons are running the farm pretty much on their own now.  I could tell the farmer was somewhat impressed with my crops.  However, he still could not believe I was doing all this for the wildlife.  He had many questions and one of my answers made him laugh out loud.  He had noticed how mostly weed free and plush my crops were and asked if I sprayed them.  I answered that I did.  I explained how on the Round-up ready crops, I would mix my Round-up and recommended liquid fertilizer for the crop being sprayed in five gallon containers.  Then I would transfer it to my backpack sprayer and walk my plots wearing rubber boots and proper clothing.  On the other crops that were not Round-up ready, I would just mix the liquid fertilizer and water and apply the same way.  Even though I tried to explain to him that I could cover a path six feet wide with my backpack sprayer, and on an average ¼ acre food plot this procedure is very efficient; he still shook his head and laughed.  He let me know that on the big farm, he had a sprayer/tractor combination that would span over 100 feet when fully extended, and that my “little Mickey Mouse sprayer system” was a joke.  All I could do was laugh with him.  I am not real good at math, but if you take my ¼ acre plot with a six foot wide sprayer width and take his tractor/sprayer with his 100 foot plus spraying width in an 80 acre field, I think mine is wider and more efficient.  This is a brain teaser (think proportion).

I am very impressed with the big farmers these days and often wonder if I should have pursued that field (that was a pun).  Food plots are definitely my passion and I am very excited about our next growing season.