As The Cotton Board’s Southeastern regional communications manager, my territory includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The concerns I hear from cotton producers in the field typically vary from state to state. However, as I have visited with growers throughout the spring and summer this year, cotton producers in all my states have voiced one common concern. Producers are experiencing significant issues with deer damage to their cotton.
In the early season, deer were eating the buds out of the field causing producers to replant their cotton. Later in the season, deer have continued to damage cotton and affect yields. This has become a top issue and concern with growers across the entire Southeast.
Scott Graham, Auburn Unviersity Extension specialist says that deer in Alabama are their No. 1 problem. In a survey asking about deer damage to row crops, he reported that farmers said cotton was affected by deer more than soybeans, peanuts, corn and small grains in Alabama.
Alabama cotton producer Nick McMichen is no stranger to deer damage. As a possible solution, McMichen has planted soybeans and Sunn hemp around his cotton to entice the deer to graze there rather than his cotton. Eddie McGriff, an Auburn Extension agent, explained that Sunn hemp is a summer legume with prolific growth, even under intense deer pressure. “To make this an effective alternative, the Sunn hemp must be planted before the cash crop, so that it is growing and is attractive to the deer,” McGriff said.
Several other strategies are being tried across the region to combat deer damage in cotton. Many of the cotton producers I have spoken with have special hunting permits to help reduce the deer population, but the sentiment remains that producers can’t farm all day and shoot deer all night.
Camp Hand, University of Georgia cotton specialist, thinks that population management is a good approach. “Using deer hunters to hunt on a producer’s land could work, but only if the hunters are committed to shooting doe and aren’t only wanting to hunt for a trophy buck,” Hand said. He also mentioned potential liability issues for farmers by allowing hunters on their land. “It’s going to take producers, deer hunters and state game wardens working together to maintain and control the problem,” he said.
Guy Collins, the North Carolina cotton specialist, states there has been plenty of work done on deterrents and repellents, but unfortunately none seem to work consistently. Collins also mentioned the use of high fences around fields as a deterrent. “The high fences work but they are expensive to install and farmers that rent land have little incentive to invest in a long-term solution like fences on land that they don’t own,” said Collins. Additionally, he noted that moving equipment in and out of fields with fences would become a major obstacle for producers.
Corey Heaton, Clemson University Extension wildlife specialist, says they’re doing everything they can to figure out a solution. “Deer are quickly becoming the modern-day boll weevil in terms of cotton yield loss,” explained Heaton. He reported that after looking at three years of studies measuring the economic effects of deer damage, he estimates an average loss of 360 pounds of lint per acre.
Cotton Incorporated’s Role
Cotton Incorporated’s Vice President of Agricultural and Environmental Research, Dr. Ryan Kurtz, says the issue of deer damage in cotton is one that Cotton Incorporated is keeping a close eye on. “We are seeing the damage caused by deer in the Southeast, and we hear the producers’ frustrations. Cotton Incorporated is supporting researchers in multiple states who are working on this issue,” he said.
While no single solution is likely to work in all areas, Cotton Incorporated is committed to being part of the solution and is optimistic that with more time and effort solutions will be found. Kurtz also urges cotton producers who are seeing deer damage in their cotton to report their damage to their local Extension agents and discuss potential solutions.