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Oh, Deer! Don’t Eat My Crops!

When people see deer in their yard or when driving by an open field, the usual reaction is, “How cool. Deer!” But, that’s not the response you’ll get from most farmers.

“Other than rainfall, deer are the single largest yield-limiting factor on our farm,” says John Bruning, a farmer from the Eastern Shore.

Estimated at nearly 220,000, Maryland’s deer herd causes millions of dollars in crop damage. A new study, being done by Luke Macaulay, a wildlife management specialist at the University of Maryland Extension, examines an alternative to divert deer away from eating and damaging crops through a method of planting forage soybeans to attract the animals to graze. This type of soybean has large leaves and grows taller than traditional soybeans.

“Forage soybeans are planted around the perimeter of the crop field. Deer seem to prefer to eat the forage soybeans over grain type soybeans or corn,” says Jim Lewis, an Ag Agent in Caroline County and collaborator in the study. “And, if managed properly, forage soybeans do produce beans to harvest.”

The last time a wildlife damage survey was conducted in Maryland was nearly a decade ago. The USDA report said that Maryland farmers estimate $10 million in crop losses due to wildlife. Over 75% of the damage was done by deer, with the remaining damage by groundhogs and geese. And, no crop was safe. Deer hit nearly every crop to some degree, including vegetables, row crops and tree plantings.

Farmers spent over $400,000 in preventative measures, such as installing fences, setting up frightening devices and using repellents. “Farmers need as many options as possible to mitigate crop losses,” Jim says.

Shlagel Farms in Southern Maryland captured a video of extensive crop destruction. The farm had plant 10,000 cabbage plants and none of the cabbage could be harvested due to deer damage. “We could have sold these at the farmer’s markets for $1 a head, so right there, starting off the season there’s $10,000 less we’ll not have to put in our pockets,” says Shlagel Farms.

So far, results from the forage soybean planting study look encouraging to decrease crop loss from deer grazing, but more research is being done.

Have the same problems in your yard? Here are five ways you can prevent deer from eating your plants.

  1. Choose deer resistant garden plants.
  2. Place highly fragrant bar soap near your outdoor plants.
  3. Apply deer repellant spray.
  4. Add a motion-activated sprinkler near your garden.
  5. Install a fence for protection.

Hungry for more? Learn more about keeping deer out of your garden. Read about conservation practices that enhance wildlife habitats.

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