On a warm summer evening in West-Central Illinois, one could see dozens, if not a hundred deer, gorging themselves on the bounty of nutritious crops, including corn and soybeans in the fields. Depending on your particular point of view that sight may be either beautiful or incredibly frustrating. As an avid deer hunter and someone with experience in agriculture, I understand both points of view. From the farmer’s point of view, the deer are pests that are decimating their crops, cutting into their bottom line. That’s not to say that farmers in general don’t appreciate deer and other wildlife, but when it comes to business, most farmers would support protecting against loss due to damage from deer and other wildlife, so I have come up with three sustainable ways farmers can improve their crop as well as maintaining a healthy deer population on their property.
Alternative Food Sources: Many farm fields in Illinois have a strip of grass around the perimeter of the fields as a buffer between the crops and the natural habitat. What if producers used those areas to plant attractive forage for whitetail deer and other pests who would otherwise be feeding on those crops?
Clover, chickoree, brassicas, and grasses have been proven effective as lure crops in food plots. In a study by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, it was proven that lure crops and food plots can help to reduce the depredation of field crops by deer.
Responsible Hunting: This one may seem obvious, but the word “responsible” is the kicker here. Regulated, responsible hunting of deer can be one of the most effective methods of maintaining the health of corn and soybeans, as well as the deer population. Responsible hunting means only removing excess deer that are both harmful to overall health of the deer herd and the health of the crops. For producers who are also conscious of the health of wildlife and the natural ecosystem, taking up responsible hunting practices or allowing trusted hunters with a good reputation in the community.
Fencing: For many soybean and corn operations in Illinois, deer fences are not really viable due to their size. Also, deer can easily jump over a standard wire fence that is sufficient to hold cattle and other livestock. Putting up a an 8 foot fence around a 250 acre field would be incredibly expensive, not to mention time consuming. However, a deer fence may be an option for farmers growing specialty crops that deer have a taste for such as apples or young saplings.
Both agriculture and deer management are subjects that I am passionate about. As far as I’m concerned, a practice that can improve both should be the primary option. Even those of us who are not deer hunters should be able to appreciate the environment and all of the resources that are available when it is managed well and worked with, instead of against. However, we have to remember that farming is a business and farmers have the right to make their business as profitable as they can. Knowledge of both agriculture and deer management are of utmost importance, especially in Illinois where both are such a huge part of what makes the state great.
My name is Braden Wherley and I am a senior Ag Business student at WIU. I grew up in a small, farming community and agriculture has always been a part of my life. I also love the outdoors and I plan on graduating in the fall of 2016.