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Research Highlights

Research Highlights
Deer damage in soybeans

By Kentucky Soybean Board.

Yield loss from deer munching their way through acres of soybeans… you know you have it, right? Or do you? Farmers, especially in the western portion of the state, see deer in their fields, and they see them eating soybean plants. Common sense would follow that yield would be impacted, but the research that has been done so far doesn’t support that the­ory.

The Kentucky Soybean Board has funded a research project with Dr. Matt Springer of the University of Kentucky to quantify yield losses from deer damage and develop a tool to calculate deer density. “When you sit down with farmers enough they will tell you their troubles, and yield loss to deer is something that always comes up,” Springer said. “The problem is, previous research has shown no statistical evidence of yield loss because of deer damage.”

Similar projects in Southern Illinois, Mississippi and even the Delmarva area have shown no yield loss due to deer. “Western Kentucky has super-high deer density,” Springer said, “so one thing we are looking for is a threshold of deer density that will cause damage.” He said that the technology of modern trail cam­eras enables farmers to get a better idea of how many deer are actually on their property, and that gives them factual informa­tion to take to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to justify in­creasing the hunter pressure.

“A 600-acre farm that estimates 70-80 deer per square mile should be harvesting 30 does per year just to keep density the same,” he said. “Hunting regulations allow for ample harvest of does in Zone 1, so this is possible to accomplish during hunt­ing seasons given enough time and hunting pressure. In Zone 1, you can buy and fill as many doe tags as you want,” Springer explained. “The problem in reducing populations is that many hunters aren’t looking for does for the freezer, they’re looking for a trophy buck for the wall.”

*Zone 1 includes the following counties: Fulton, Hickman, Car­lisle, Ballard, Graves, McCracken, Calloway, Marshall, Livingston, Trigg, Lyon, Caldwell, Crittenden, Christian, Hopkins and Webster.

“The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife is a partner in this project,” Springer explained. “That department is tasked with managing the deer population, and if a landowner believes he is having yield losses on the farm because of deer, and he contacts the department, a wildlife biologist will come out and tour the farm. If evidence of excess deer density is found, that biologist may issue tags that the landowner can use or give to someone else to hunt on that land. If it persists, the Department is authorized to give the landowner extra tags to shoot does out­side season,” he added.

Trailcam photo courtesy of Dr. Matt Springer

Springer is currently quantifying deer damage on specific ar­eas of Ballard and Caldwell counties. Data has been assessed for the 2017 growing season, and data from more than one growing season is needed for a valid scientific sample. The overall objec­tives of this study are to quantify the impact that white-tail deer are having on soybean yields in Kentucky, determine if deer den­sities are correlated with yield losses, and to test the ability of the deer damage tag program used by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to reduce the crop damage incurred by producers.

To find research related to this Research Highlight, please visit the National Soybean Checkoff Research Database.