Deer baiting impacts Michigan farmers

Whether you are for or against regulation, deer baiting has consequences for Michigan agriculture.

The practice of baiting white-tailed deer with apples, corn, sugar beets or carrots continues to raise controversy in the Midwest. The state of Wisconsin recently banned deer baiting in four northwestern counties after discovering a case of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). On November 3, 2012, Minnesota lawmakers increased fines and penalties for baiting in response to an uptick in violations of their statewide ban in place since 1991. In 2011, Michigan lifted its ban on deer baiting in all but four northeastern counties, but continues to restrict bait to 2 gallons spread across a minimum 10 x 10 foot area. Michigan’s current policy represents a compromise not only between those for and against deer baiting, but between differing agriculture interests as well.

Deer apples
Culled apples for sale as deer feed. Photo credit: James DeDecker, MSUE

The central argument against deer baiting is its potential to congregate animals in ways that increases the potential for disease transmission through food, feces and urine. There is significant evidence that feeding deer can perpetuate diseases like Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) and CWD. This lead Michigan Farm Bureau to publically oppose the lifting of Michigan’s baiting ban in 2011. Michigan livestock farmers have invested in herd testing and wildlife mitigation measures, such as fencing woodlots and protecting feed, to control TB. Deer baiting works against these investments.

However, the foods used as bait are agricultural products, and the baiting market offers advantages for some Michigan producers. Each season a significant portion of fruit and vegetable crops are rendered unsuitable for their primary markets by insect, disease or physiological issues. The deer bait market provides an outlet for this lower quality produce. In the 1990s, prior to restriction of deer baiting in Michigan, the farm gate value of cull carrots for bait was estimated to total $2.2 million statewide.

In some cases, the deer bait market also offers price advantages over traditional markets. For example, deer corn is currently selling at $5 to $8 per 40 lb. bag. This translates into $7 to $11.20 per bushel, a range largely exceeding the current market price. Some of this price increase is associated with bagging and marketing costs. Still, the bait market has the potential to put more money into the farmer’s pocket per bushel sold, especially in the case of direct on-farm sales.

This season, in the majority of Michigan counties, the decision to bait deer or not will be left to hunters. Michigan State University Extension recommends that hunters review baiting regulations by watching this MDNR video. In 2014, Michigan DNR and the Natural Resources Commission will reconsider their deer baiting policy. At that time, voices on both sides of this difficult issue will have the opportunity to influence decision-making. It is imperative that the Michigan farming community reach a consensus on deer baiting before 2014 to protect the diverse interests of all its members.

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