Farmers report more crop damage by deer
By Jeff Mulhollem
Harrisburg — State game commissioners got an earful about increased crop damage by deer at their recent meeting.
The trend is related to the drought, according to Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough, who noted that farmers always complain more about deer crop depredation in dry years.
“I think it is because farmers are less tolerant of damage caused by wildlife because their profit margins are tighter,” he said.
“It was easy to follow when I was a wildlife conservation officer. When we had drought conditions or even semi-drought conditions like we are having now, we knew there would be more complaints. Crop damage is less tolerated in dry years.”
Jeff Grove, with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, told commissioners that members of his organization report that crop damage caused by deer is up across the state with the exception of Potter and Tioga counties, where crop damage by bears is still the larger issue.
The largest amount of damage to corn and soybean crops has occurred in the counties where drought conditions are worst, he said.
“It is especially concerning because in those areas crops are already showing low yields because of very dry conditions. This is another year when wildlife damage will be a huge burden on farm families that are trying to make ends meet,” Grove said.
“As game commissioners look toward the 2016-17 seasons, we ask you to carefully consider the issues that landowners are having with deer especially and wildlife in general.”
Joel Steinman, who raises crops on a number of farms in northern Dauphin County near Halifax told commissioners crop damage by deer will amount to about a $20,000 loss this year in his fields.
“I have had so much crop damage this year – we have been farming since the 1970s and this is the first year that it has been anywhere near this bad,” he said.
His farm and all the farms around him are “polluted with deer,” Steinman told commissioners, even though they are open to hunting. But there are properties in his area where the owners don’t allow deer to be killed.
“They even buy doe tags and throw them away because they don’t want does to be killed,” he said. “I can see 15 or 20 deer in my fields all the time. I am looking for some relief.”
According to Glenn Miller, another farmer from northern Dauphin County who farms 1,000 acres, farmers should be allowed to use hired shooters to control deer numbers all year-round.
“Problem is, there are wooded tracts alongside the farms where the deer take cover when the shooting starts during hunting seasons. These deer get educated,” he said.
“We work hard – we don’t want be messing with deer. It takes time out of our day.”
Miller pointed out that to be legal there must be crops in the field before deer can be shot for crop damage. So deer can’t removed in fall and winter after the harvest, when farmers have some free time.
“Just like right now – I don’t want to go out and shoot deer in the middle of my soybean field eating soybeans because I would have to drag the deer out and cause more damage,” he said.
“I believe, after hunting season, if there are still too many deer out there I should be allowed to take things into my own hands and reduce the number for the sake of my crops to be planted that spring.”
Both farmers and the Farm Bureau’s Grove complained about paperwork and a two-year wait farmers have to endure to be included in the Red Tag Program that allows hunting on farms outside seasons to control crop damage.
They apparently got the commissioner’s attention. “We as an agency need to take a long look at programs we are providing farmers,” said Commissioner Tim Layton, of Somerset County.
Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, agreed, promising that the commissioners would try to come up with answers.
“We hear what you are saying and now we just have to find a way to fix it,” he said, adding that in drought years crop damage often occurs in areas where deer depredation had not been a huge problem previously.
“One of the problems for farmers is the timing of when crop depredation is occurring. During the hunting seasons the deer are not out on the cornfields … I think we should waive the waiting period for the Red Tag Program.”
Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, president of the board, suggested that hunters can solve most deer crop-depredation problem.
He noted that commissioners try to balance the interests of hunters and farmers.
“We give farmers programs to specifically manage deer numbers on a small scale, such as Red Tag and DMAP,” he said.
“We need to be sure that farmers are taking advantage of these programs,”
He explained that when large numbers of deer move onto a farm that has not seen large amounts of crop damage before, it is important to have a program farmers can access quickly and without strings attached.
“Hopefully you can get hunters involved. When I hear of farmers shooting 50 or 100 deer, invariably we find that the farm has not been open to hunting at all,” he said. “If there is a problem with a crop damage program, then we need to address it.”
Hoover suggested the Game Commission may need to employ a person to go out and work with farmers to show them what is available to help with crop damage, and guide them through paperwork requirements.