Sep 24, 2008
Deer Feeding Ban Hits Carrot, Apple Growers

Michigan’s ban on feeding and baiting wild white-tailed deer came at a bad time for apple and carrot growers, as well as for those who grow corn and sugar beets specifically for deer feed.

The ban came Aug. 26, the day after the first deer infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD) was found in the state. According to Rebecca Humphries, the director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, policy had been laid down long in advance, and the she knew one of the first actions she would take, should CWD be found, was to ban feeding and baiting.

Baiting and feeding of deer has long been controversial. Hunters and deer watchers use bait to attract deer for viewing or for hunting, especially bow hunting. For bow hunters, the ban came just more than a month before the hunting season opened.

Ben Kudwa, the executive director of the Michigan Potato and Carrot Commission, said the ban came at a bad time, just at harvest. He said that 20 percent to 30 percent of Michigan’s carrot crop is sold as culls for deer feed. That’s 850 to 1,000 semi-truck loads, at 20 tons a load, worth anywhere from $25 to $150 a ton, depending upon how they are packaged and sold.

Since much of the carrot growing business shifted to California in the 1970s, Michigan has been “a small player,” Kudwa said. Growers have cultivated the deer feed market as a good alternative for cull carrots.

“If we were in California, we would have carrot juice as an alternative market,” he said. “Here, the cull carrot market has kept growers in the retail business.”

Not only did the DNR baiting and feeding ban kill that market, it left growers with a disposal problem. The Michigan Department of Agriculture has been asked for its opinion on what carrot growers are to do with them. Land-applying them at heavy densities could put growers at odds with DNR, which might see the fields as giant bait piles.

Denise Donahue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said the timing was bad for apple growers, too.

“Growers who have developed that niche market had absolutely no time to adjust. Had they known earlier, they might have made different decisions on how to manage the crop,” she said.

Some of Michigan’s apple crop had been damaged by hail in early July, and the deer feed market had long been considered a viable one for hail-damaged apples, as well as for scabby apples and drops.

While one industry expert said apples intended for deer feed could be used to juice – including drops, if the juice was pasteurized, Donahue wasn’t pleased by that.

“For food safety reasons, the industry has moved away from using dropped apples for food,” she said. “Good management practices for cider include a recommendation against using drops.”

Still, the apple crop in Michigan is short this year, and some of it was damaged by hail and early freezes, so there will undoubtedly be shifts in how the apples are used. One packer is putting out a special package of hail-dented Honeycrisp. Other apples will shift from the fresh to processed market, but processors make procurement plans early. It is a question how many deer-feed apples will move into processing or juice markets, especially given the short notice.

A big question remains over how drops will be marketed, now that the bait market is gone.

Across much of Michigan, deer feeding and baiting has made virtually every gas station into a convenience store for bags of apples and carrots.

Livestock specialists are Michigan State University have released information on the value of carrots and sugar beets as feedstuffs for cattle, either brood cows or cattle in feedlots. Carrots, at 12 percent dry matter, have a lot more moisture than corn or hay, but they are sweet and palatable to cattle and could make up as much as 40 percent of a diet, replacing corn silage. Sugar beets are similar.

Carrots at $20 a ton would be more valuable than corn at $5.70 a bushel, the experts said.

Michigan Farm Bureau, in an effort to help farmers find alternative markets for what might have become deer feed, set up the Web-based Michigan Feed Exchange. The site can be found at www.michfb.com/feed. Those without Internet access should call Andrena Reid at 800-292-2680 ext. 2022.

Farmers might also try to sell their culls using Michigan Market Maker, a new interactive Web tool from the MSU Product Center that connects buyers and sellers of food and fiber products. It can be found at http://mimarketmaker.msu.edu.

Sugar beets are another popular deer bait, and people who grow them for bait are usually not commercial growers, who contract their beets for processing into sugar. In theory, both sugar beet and corn growers have flexible markets and are not tied to deer feed – although beet growers might not have access to markets as readily as would those growing corn for deer.

For the last decade, debate has raged in Michigan over deer baiting and feeding, started by the discovery of bovine tuberculosis in some deer. It is believed that both TB and CWD are passed from deer to deer in saliva and nasal secretions, and that having deer eating like livestock at a trough was putting deer at risk.

While the TB case created controversy, there appears to be little about CWD. This disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalitis, a mysterious group of diseases caused by odd proteins about which little is known. These diseases, while not known to be transmissible across species lines, do appear in cattle, sheep, deer and related animals, and humans.

The CWD-infected deer was found on a deer farm near Grand Rapids, Mich., and not in the wild population, but strict rules were imposed to minimize the risk of spread.




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