For anyone who has driven along Kentucky’s interstate system, the sight of deer both alive and otherwise is common, but farmers are taking a real hit from the animals, too, as the deer invade croplands.
The problem has become so prevalent, the Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) Federation included the issue in its policy priorities for the coming year during its annual meeting.
According to information from the organization, “KFB recommends that the state establish procedures for controlling wildlife pests such as beaver, deer, coyote, raccoon, etc., which are proving to be destructive in certain areas of the state.”
The situation faced during the growing season by Russell Schwenke, a producer from northern Kentucky, has become commonplace. He said it was not the early spring rains that affected his double-crop soybeans this year but rather the deer on his farm.
“The [problem] with the deer was terrible, so our double crops weren’t very good. It wasn’t weather conditions but wildlife conditions,” he said.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service notes that nationally wildlife causes $619 million in field-crop damages and an additional $147 million in losses to fruit and nuts each year.
KFB notes that of those figures, deer are responsible for 58 percent of the field crop and vegetable damage and 33 percent of the damage caused to fruits and nuts.
Officials from KFB intend to work with legislators during the ongoing 2014 session to see if a solution can be found that not only addresses the needs of the agriculture sector but protects the sporting aspect of wildlife throughout the state.
KFB’s director of public affairs Jeff Harper said in the last two sessions, the organization was able to get wildlife legislation passed dealing with furrow hogs and coyotes.
“Through our resolutions process, we get as many resolutions from our counties relating to wildlife as we do also any other topic,” he said. “There is a wildlife issue, statewide.”
Harper said that in the upcoming session, the organization was going to take a more pro-active approach with the deer and some of the turkey issues that KFB membership is facing.
“We had a wonderful crop year, and I don’t know of anyone growing corn and soybeans that had substantial crop losses because of the weather,” he said.
It was the losses from wildlife that are prompting KFB to also work with the Kentucky League of Sportsmen and the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife during the session to find a way to alleviate the problem.
“As big of an issue as it is, we understand and appreciate the wildlife of Kentucky, the sportspeople of Kentucky, and we understand that wildlife can be an asset in terms of tourism, economic development and creating economic activity in the state. We’re all for that,” said Harper.
However, he added that when KFB membership begins experiencing substantial crop losses due to wildlife populations, it is the organization’s responsibility to take a hard look at the issue to see what can be done to help alleviate some of the over-populations of the deer and turkey in the state.
According to deerfriendly.com, Kentucky’s deer herd population was estimated to be 750,000 in 2013 before fawning, and 900,000 by last October. This represents a “stable to slightly declining population.” In 2012, it was about 850,000 to 900,000, up from an estimated 740,000 deer in 2011, which was down a little from the previous recent peak of 800,000.
In addition to being a problem for farmers, the abundance of deer creates problems for motorists as well. According to the Kentucky State Police, there were 2,798 automobile collisions with deer in 2012, causing 140 injuries, not to mention the cost for claims. Harper said those costs reached $18.4 million in 2012 for those insured by KFB alone.
“I believe it’s a problem not only for the agriculture industry but for everyone,” he said.
Harper emphasized that as KFB develops a strategy to combat the issue, it’s important to note the organization doesn’t want to do anything to harm the sport of deer or turkey hunting in the state.
“But I think it’s time we took a good look at this and see what we can do,” he said.
Harper said it’s hard to put a dollar figure on just how much the agriculture losses have cost farmers, but over the last decade, Kentucky has transitioned from a largely tobacco-farm economy to one more diverse with orchards and vegetable operations, along with more corn and soybean production; something more attractive to wildlife.
“You are never going to eliminate [the problem] and we understand that, but we think it’s our job to try to reduce any crop losses that our membership has,” he said. “The deer are an asset to our state, but at the same time, we have to take care of Kentucky agriculture as well.”