Deer hunters likely to see bait prices rise

Cadillac, Mich. — Hunters who plan to bait deer this season can expect to pay more for vegetables due to a combination of poor growing conditions and increasing production costs.

Some crops, like apples, will be hard to come by because of spring freezes that wreaked havoc on orchards, while drought conditions during the summer took a toll on corn and other crops, though retailers expect demand for bait to be similar to 2011.

Jay Johnson, director of the Michigan field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said, “In general, prices are up this year due to reduced production – in some cases due to early freezes and other cases of droughts going on across the nation.”

In April, 13 different freeze events in Michigan greatly reduced fruit harvest, and prices for corn crops have jumped more than a dollar over last year because of arid growing conditions, he said.

“Production is quite a bit off of trend so the cost of corn and soybeans is quite a bit higher than historically, or a year earlier,” Johnson said of the price producers received at point of first sale. “For example, a year ago the price for corn was in the $6.30 range and it’s now approaching $8 a bushel. That’s almost a 25-percent increase.

“I think you will see that passed on.”

Saginaw farmer Tony Benkert is entering his 17th year as a wholesaler of deer bait and said the most significant change this year will be with the drastic drop in apple production, although a variety of challenges likely will result in increased costs for most crops.

“One of the biggest problems we’re going to have for deer feed is 90 percent of the apple crop was lost with the late freezes in the spring. A normal crop in Michigan is 20 million to 23 million bushel, and they are estimating less than 3 million bushels are going to be harvested,” said Benkert, who plans to deliver only bagged corn, carrots, and beats this year to roughly 100 stores.

“I’m not bagging one apple this year,” he said.

Benkert said he’ll charge retailers about 50 cents per bag more for corn, carrots, and beats than he did in 2011, because of increasing production costs and a variety of other factors. He expects that cost to be passed on to hunters, with bags slightly smaller or more expensive than in the past. Hunters can expect to pay between $5 and $6 per 40-pound bag of corn, carrots, or beats, depending on the retailer, Benkert said.

“If the price at the store level gets too high, the overall volume of sales goes way down,” he said.

The nationwide drought this summer, increased costs for diesel fuel, Michigan’s temporary ban on deer baiting between 2008 and 2011 – which continues to impact the supply of corn and carrots for bait – and increased federal regulations on growing sugar beets are all playing into this year’s rising costs, Benkert said.

“There are a lot less growers” than before the baiting ban, Benkert said. “The volume of carrots available for deer feed is 40 to 50 percent less than before they banned it in 2008.

“Too many farmers lost hundreds of thousands of dollars for not having a market for their crops.”

At Northwoods Feed and Supply in Cadillac, store owner Fred Flemming said he expects bait sales to be down quite a bit from pre-bait ban levels, but similar to 2011. He ordered about 400 tons of sugar beets, corn, and carrots this year – about 15 percent more than last season – but he doesn’t anticipate apples will be affordable enough to sell to hunters.

“We won’t sell the volumes we did prior to 2008, but it will be comparable to last year, maybe 10 to 15 percent more,” he said. “We have ordered a little bit heavier this year because we actually ran out early last year.”

Flemming plans to begin selling bait next month, and hasn’t yet locked in prices, but said “everything pretty much follows corn, so if corn (prices are) up, everything else will probably be up, too.”

Hunters can plan on paying slightly higher prices than last year because of a 15- to 20-percent increase in wholesale costs, he said, but the increase won’t be significant.

Prices “may be up some, corn is up maybe 15 percent from last year and beets and carrots will be in that same area,” he said.

Categories: Hunting News, Whitetail Deer

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