Got deer? Many farmers would reply, "Oh, yeah, way too many!"
Fairplay Farm, at Greenwood, Del., had way too many. After 13 years of participation in Delaware's Severe Deer Damage Assistance (permitted antlerless harvest) Program, more than 425 deer had been harvested on that farm.
"But we saw no substantial reduction of deer browse on our crops," recalls Fairplay Owner Leslie Merriken. "We reached a point where additional deer harvesting wasn't effective."
Collaborating with Richard Carlisle of Bridgeville, Del., who farms the land, they came up another solution by digging deeper into Whitetail behavior. They also received consulting help from Latty Hoch, owner of a preserve devoted to wildlife habitat.
A plan was mapped out to plant diversionary food crop plots along the most heavily browsed areas of the farm. Non-irrigated, odd shaped areas lying adjacent to the farm's pine plantations with poor soils were chosen. Fifty-foot-wide strips of clover and alfalfa were planted between the cropland and the pine plantations.
In 2014, Carlisle of Bridgeville, Del., found that the diversion plots were more attractive to deer than the corn, notes Carlisle. In the first year, an 80% reduction of corn browse damage was observed.
"I'd estimate that improved my yields along the edges of the field by 300% or better," estimates Carlisle. "The diversion plots helped greatly. Deer still foraged on my corn, but definitely not to the extent they'd done before."
The bottom line on this project is: After amortized over a five year projected life of the clover and alfalfa, yields and profits will be up on corn crops and money wasted on seed, fertilizer and labor will be down.
Diversion crops along with educated hunting techniques need to be considered in any area with a severe deer damage issue.
"We're enhancing our Hunt Club's ability to harvest more does," says Merriken. "This is about minimizing doe populations and managing severe crop damage in tandem. Benefits of this strategy include enhanced harmony between the landowner, farmer, hunters, wildlife and the environment.
Merriken and Hoch believe the diversion plots can add another tool to the Severe Deer Damage Assistance Program that farmers and landowners now use. And, they contend it's cost-effective.
These concepts gained the attention of Delaware's Secretary of Agriculture, Fish & Wildlife, and Quality Deer Management. At this time, a pilot diversion crop pilot project is in the planning stages. The Ag Department is seeking farmer and landowner cooperators to expand the pilot tests on more farms during 2015.