South Carolina: Deer Cause 50% Soybean Yield Loss

Clemson University researchers are attempting to save South Carolina’s soybean growers millions of dollars each year by investigating alternative methods for reducing damage caused by white-tailed deer.

Extension specialists Jeremy Greene, David Gunter, Cory Heaton and Jonathan Croft are conducting trials in soybean fields at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center and also at a privately owned farm.

“Deer damage in soybean crops varies from insignificant to complete crop failure. Producers in high deer-density areas of South Carolina frequently see 50% or greater yield losses as a result of deer feeding activities,” said Heaton, a Clemson Extension agriculture and natural resources agent. “Identifying effective repellents could greatly reduce the multimillion dollar losses South Carolina farmers are currently experiencing each year.”

Orangeburg County farmer Tommy Bozard has been struggling with deer damage in his soybean fields for years despite trying a variety of methods to ward off the large ruminants. In many instances, portions of his planted acreage have been completely destroyed.

“Farmers like Mr. Bozard are desperate to find a solution that will allow them to make a crop,” Heaton said. “Unless you have farmed, it’s hard to describe the disgust that comes from seeing someone’s livelihood destroyed during the night.”

In keeping with the organizational mission, Clemson Extension Service is working to help solve this major production issue. The ongoing trials will evaluate insecticides that are commonly used on soybeans throughout the state, some of which are believed to have some effectiveness at repelling deer. In addition to the insecticides, five commercially available deer repellents will be included in the trials, which will include three weekly sprays following emergence of soybean plantings. Deer damage to these plantings will be monitored throughout the spray regime and for two weeks after the third spray.

Data collected from the study will be analyzed in hopes of identifying successful deer repellent combinations to improve production abilities for soybean growers in high deer-density areas.

“We hope to identify effective deer-repellent strategies that are feasible for South Carolina growers and that can be easily incorporated into the crop management program,” Heaton said.

Trials were planted in mid-June following the wheat harvest. Soybeans received their initial repellent spray shortly after emergence. Beans will be sprayed with their corresponding treatment two more times. Deer damage to beans has been monitored weekly since their emergence and will continue to be monitored until the end of July. Producers can expect to see research results by the end of the growing season.

In South Carolina, damage caused by deer can range from barely noticeable to complete crop failure. Growers in areas with high deer densities have often abandoned soybean production because of the devastating impacts of deer feeding on yields. Farmers often apply for deer depredation permits from theS.C. Department of Natural Resources that allow farmers to apply lethal control techniques to reduce deer numbers in crop fields.

“Depredation permits are not solving deer damage issues for all farmers,” Heaton said. “Removal of deer through depredation permits requires significant night-time work on top of the daily duties of running a farming operation. Farmers can’t spend 24 hours a day monitoring each field. Our research aims to identify a passive technique that will provide around-the-clock protection without the presence of a farmer.”

Source: Cory Heaton and Jim Melvin, Clemson University

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