by Pettus Read
A very common sight these days along Tennessee's rural roadways is the sudden image of flickering bright white tails of deer as they spring across farm fences and the almost chorus line formation of large numbers of wild turkeys stopping traffic to cross roads as if they were in a parade. These sights are something that wildlife enthusiasts view as beauty and Tennessee's farmers and property owners see as problems.
For several years now damage to field crops, home gardens, landscaping, and farm livestock has continued to increase. The reported amounts of damage have varied across the board depending on who or what agency was doing the reporting.
A report compiled by the National Agricultural Statistics Service issued a few years ago, reported that crop and livestock losses from wildlife in the United States totaled over $900 million. Much of that loss occurred in the area of field crops with deer being the number one violator.
Farmers have been seeking a solution for several years to the number of deer making their annual harvest less each fall and the most possible solution to their problem is one that is very simple. Reduce the number of deer.
The economics of predation management in agriculture and wildlife has been around a long time. When it was the occasional raccoon in the cornfield or even the two deer in the soybeans only a few years ago, the problem could be solved with a good dog. That was a starting point for predation management on our Tennessee farms.
However, today there are hundreds of deer in the soybean fields and the dog is no longer the solution, but the principles of predation management are still the same. That is, reduce the number of deer.
Up in Henry County, where the deer seem to hold an annual convention each year and the delegates never go home, farmers with the help of the University of Tennessee Extension Service are experiencing positive impact from predation management. Henry County UT Extension Agent and County Director Ken Goddard has seen much success from a deer census and harvest program begun a few years ago.
Goddard reports that one of his farmers has seen a major impact in using a predation management program suggested by UT.
In 2003 and 2005 he planted 96 acres of soybeans on his farm. In 2004
and 2006 he planted 78 acres of soybeans due to field rotations. In the five years he averaged 55 bushels of beans per acre from the acres harvested. His beans sold for an average of $6.00 per bushel. In 2003 the farmer lost 10 acres of soybeans from deer feeding totaling 550 bushels at $6 or $3300.
During the year of 2004 with the issuing of depredation permits to hunters, 2 bucks and 33 does were taken off the farm. During seasonal hunts that same year, 3 bucks and 19 does were taken. That year he lost 3.5 acres of soybeans from deer feeding totaling 193 bushels. At $6 per bushel his deer damage amounted to $1155 compared to $3300 the year before.
In 2005 depredation permitted hunts netted 4 bucks and 23 does, with seasonal hunting harvesting an additional 2 bucks and 26 does.
Last year depredation hunts removed 2 bucks and 8 does, with seasonal hunt harvests of 2 bucks and 8 more does.
With predation management in place on the farmer's farm, in 2005 he
lost 2.5 acres of soybeans from deer feeding totaling 138 bushels at $6 a bushel or $828 in deer damage to the soybean harvest.
Just like in the other years, the farmer in 2006 saw his loss drop to one half of an acre of soybeans damaged from deer feeding totaling 27.5 bushels of soybeans consumed. At $6 a bushel the farmer had a damage cost of $165 in 2006 compared to $3300 back in 2003. Plus, hunters have realized the deer taken from the farm in recent years have increased in size and have a much more healthy condition than deer they hunted only a few years ago.
As Goddard continues to hear reports from other farmers in the area, the results are the same. By using depredation permits and reducing the number of does in an area, simple annual deer number management results in crop damage reduction and the deer seem to be healthier for the hunters to harvest and the public to enjoy.