Deer baiting a double-edged sword for Michigan farmers

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

Culled apples for sale as deer feed. Photo credit: James DeDecker, Michigan State University Extension

Culled apples for sale as deer feed. Photo credit: James DeDecker, Michigan State University Extension

The practice of baiting white-tailed deer with apples, corn, sugarbeets or carrots continues to raise controversy in the Midwest. In 2014, the state of Wisconsin has banned deer baiting in 35 counties impacted by Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Minnesotans continue to debate current penalties for violation of their statewide baiting ban, including revocation of deer hunting licenses for one year and the seizing of firearms and bows used to hunt over bait. In April, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission reaffirmed its policy allowing deer baiting in all but four northeastern counties (Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda), 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.

The central argument against deer baiting is its potential to congregate animals in ways that increase 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. This September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture upgraded the status of seven counties in northern Michigan to TB-free. Deer baiting works against these investments and hard-won progress.

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-$8 per 50-pound bag. This translates into $6-$9.60 per bushel, a range significantly 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 hunters review baiting regulations by watching the MDNR YouTube video titled Michigan Baiting and Feeding Rules. As the public conversation on this difficult issue continues, it is imperative that Michigan’s farming community remains engaged to protect the diverse interests of all its members.

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