Feb 27, 2017

Want to plant a SUPER perennial crop?

By Steve Jordan

Many hunters don't have time to mess around with annual plants each and every year.  They are pinched for time between work, weather and family commitments.  

Planting a good perennial clover mix has been very popular through the years.  In my experience, the first and second year on the clover mix is pretty good for attracting deer.  Starting the third year and after, it is marginal at best.  This is due to the plant itself getting old; some of the original varieties have disappeared and grasses have taken over and weakened the existing plants.  I understand and have tried the expensive herbicide for clover weed control.  When I sprayed with the herbicide, it killed only some of the grasses, but it also stunted and weakened the clover, making it even more undesirable for the deer to eat.

One way to get around that problem is to have three strips of clover growing.  The first year you plant clover in one of the strips.  The other two strips can be planted with any annual plants.  The second year, plant another strip in clover leaving the third strip with another variety of annuals.  In the third year, plant the final third of your clover plot in clover.  Then you can work up your first strip and plant a Round-up ready soybean or corn to work on weed control for that year.  Then keep rotating this plan every year to keep your clover weed free and more attractive to deer.

This strategy does work pretty well if you have the time to commit to this plan, but it still goes back to the fact that clover is not one of the most sought after food sources for deer.  Soybean plants and pods, along with young winter rye will attract more deer every time.  

Now what if you had a perennial plant that was as sought after for deer as much as the soybeans and winter rye?  What if this perennial plant was Round-up ready?  What if it was extremely hardy and easy to grow?  As long as you have good drainage and good sunlight, this plant will thrive.  I made my first test plot with this plant over ten years ago and now have acres planted with it.

This plant is a high protein Round-up ready alfalfa.  It has a tiny seed similar to clover and can be planted the same way.  Work up your soil and level it as much as possible because you may be mowing this in the future.  Broadcast the seed on the surface and culti-pack the field.

If sprayed and fertilized properly, it will be your most sought after crop for deer.  With lower deer densities, it may have to be mowed once or twice in the summer.  I let the local farmer cut the first crop and then I keep it trimmed the rest of the growing season to keep it young and tasty throughout summer and fall.  I know of people who have this alfalfa planted in high deer density areas and the deer keep it mowed all year.

One drawback is the seed is very expensive.  However if you divide the cost up for the ten years or more that this field will last, it comes out to less than most annual seeds purchased in a 10 year period.  With this crop you are not having to work up the soil every year and having to count on timely rains to get a new crop to germinate.  An established alfalfa plant has extremely deep roots (up to 15 feet), so it handles droughts very well.

A 50-pound bag of seed can be purchased at most farmer co-ops or your local independent food plot suppliers.  The suppliers I have dealt with will not break up a 50-pound bag.  Fifty pounds will plant three to four acres and will cost approximately $450.  Again, this crop is low maintenance and you can probably have your local farmer mow once or twice a year and you should be able to keep it young and plush from there.  Mowing should be done as soon as the purple blossoms just start to show.  I try to mow it at about 4 inches high.  This way the deer still have browse even after mowing.

A farmer with conventional alfalfa gets 3-4 years out of his field until the grasses start taking over.  With Round-up ready alfalfa, the grasses will not take over, and if you do a good job of spraying, you should have soil showing in any winter-kill blotches.  Small puddles can freeze and thaw over the course of winter causing these areas to die off.  These areas can be successfully replanted just by broadcasting seeds on the bare.  I was told by a farmer that you can't repair winter-kill areas in alfalfa, but I have successfully done this myself.  By the following fall, I could not tell where the previous winter damage was.  I think conventional alfalfa that gets areas of winter-kill has grasses immediately taking over, so to reseed without working the ground up would not be an option.

There is a 7-acre conventional alfalfa field next to me.  It is rare to see a deer eating in that field.  My 3-acre field will have over a dozen deer eating in it daily.  My alfalfa has a higher protein level, is well-fertilized and is properly mowed to be a greater attraction for deer.

This crop is amazing.  The deer eat on it all spring, summer and fall, and dig through the snow in winter to get at it.  When you add in the fact that this is an easy to plant seed, is a healthy attractant for the deer, and with easy maintenance will last ten years or more, it is a natural to include it in your food plots.