Farm Calls: Deer Damage is Back with a Vengeance

This past week we heard from a New Jersey grower direct from the cab of his hi-tech combine as he was harvesting soybean.

The yield monitor in the cab was showing him huge yield differences in real-time between the headlands (edges) of the field adjacent to wooded areas and the rest of the 12-acre field. He considered possible causes but the differences were far too great to be shade, water stress, compaction, or competition from weeds. Nothing seemed to fit the pattern explaining the 45% yield loss seen in the first 2 passes compared with the 50 bushels/acre for the rest of the field.

Recalling a discussion we had some 15 years ago about deer being edge habitat species, he asked, “Could this be deer damage?”

It might well be. Grower reports are coming in from all over New Jersey suggesting that this will be a very bad year for deer damage. Rising intolerable crop losses are being experienced. NJ Farm Bureau President, Ryck Suydam, states, “The costs are just too high, something must be done” to better control deer damage. Contrary to popular opinion, crop damage from deer is the result of how effectively non-farm landowners (public and private) manage wildlife resources on their own properties. We have the knowledge to do a better job controlling deer populations; getting buy-in from all groups to work toward consistent application of effective methods is the hard part.

Myths about Deer Populations

Deer thrive in NJ but we can’t lay blame at the feet of local farms. Deer are unlike other species whose numbers dwindle in the face of urban sprawl. Landscape modifications carving up habitat – the edges of neighborhood yards, for example – actually support more deer at higher densities per square mile than undisturbed forests. Due to modern NJ settlement patterns, available deer habitat has increased while predation has decreased leading to populations that have outstripped deer carrying capacity for much of our state. When deer populations overwhelm an area, normal deer behaviors bring them into closer contact with humans, resulting in increased incidence of human disease (for example, Lyme disease), auto vs. deer accidents, and competition for suburban landscaping and agricultural crops. [Read more…]

Farm Calls:
Troubleshooting Stunting in a Strawberry Field

This week a grower called to report an area of stunted strawberry plants, first noticed after removal of the row covers in April. There may have been overwatering on occasion.

If you read the 2016 Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations, you’ve seen the page, Diagnosing Vegetable Crop Problems (A27). Stepping through the diagnostic process with a grower is mutually satisfying – there’s nothing better than getting to the root of a problem so it can be minimized or avoided altogether in the future. The process involves tracing the history of the field and the development of the problem, then closely examining the soil and plants.

Field and Crop History

Our grower said that the field previously had summer cover crop, which was tilled under while green. A couple of weeks later, raised beds were made with plastic mulch applied. The strawberry plugs were set into the beds in late summer. The growth differences that caused him to call weren’t noticed until after the row covers were removed in April.

Plant growth differences in a strawberry field.

Our grower’s strawberry field.

[Read more…]

Fast Tracking Soil Organic Matter

Leaves. We like using un-composted municipal collected leaf mulch to improve soil organic matter. There are different ways to get it done. You can soil incorporate them, and then fallow the field in long rotations. It’s economically challenging. You can surface apply leaves between rows of some standing row crops like potato and pumpkin cash crops. At the end of the season, incorporation of the decomposing leaves improves soil over years. It’s labor intensive. But this is Jersey, where everything has to be done faster and fields have to pay their way. Last fall a grower from South Jersey asked,

Can I speed up the process of increasing my soil organic matter using incorporated un-composted leaves, yet avoid the crop deficiencies that result from nutrient tie-up?

He’s talking about the temporary (one or two seasons) soil carbon:nitrogen ratio imbalance that occurs after adding 10-20 tons/acre of leaves that have a carbon:nitrogen ratio of 50:1 to a production field where the ideal ratio would be 10 or 12:1. What he doesn’t say is that he’s got enough to do as a grower without having to become an on-farm compost manager, too.
[Read more…]

Farm Calls:
A Hasty Decision in the Transplant Greenhouse

Spring weather is finally breaking and vegetable transplants are being readied for field planting. We received a grower’s call about a leaf abnormality in some greenhouse grown tomato plants.

“The transplant tomatoes I’ve got hardened off, ready to go in the field have dead spots on the leaves.
What’s going on?”

We looked the plants over…

salt injured plantsSalt injury on leaves

[Read more…]