Whitetail Food: Crops


White-tailed deer enjoy using row crops such as corn and sorghum. Agricultural crops constitute from 40 to more than 50 percent of the whitetail’s year-round diet in some areas. In northeast Kansas, corn is the single most-used plant in all seasons except summer, with 29 percent overall use, while in Iowa corn comprised 40 percent of the deer’s diet. Although whitetails are commonly observed in alfalfa fields, alfalfa is a relatively minor food source.

Native foods that make up part of the deer’s diet include woody vegetation, particularly buckbrush and rose, with lesser amounts of dogwood, chokecherry, plum, red cedar, pine, and a host of other species. Forbs, particularly sunflowers, are important, while grasses and sedges are used only briefly in spring and fall. Although whitetails can obviously subsist entirely on native foods, they apparently have a preference for farm crops, which constitute the biggest management problem in agricultural states – balancing deer numbers so as to satisfy both hunter demand and landowner tolerance.

From a 2001 crop study on white-tailed deer negative impacts and depredation:

High-Value Ag Depredation — The estimated annual loss to high-value agricultural crops for the 13 states was $94,374,840, ranging from a low of $27,450 for Rhode Island to a high of $48,205,006 for New York. High-value agricultural crops included fresh market and processed vegetables, including but not limited to snap beans, sweet corn, leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and peppers. Apples and peaches were also included as a high-value crop.

An average total production value for high-value crops of interest for the years 1998-2000 was compiled for most states. Due to data availability, total production values were averaged for the years 1994-1999 for Delaware and 1997-1999 for New Jersey, and single years were used for Maryland (1996) and Pennsylvania (1995). Once total production values were compiled, economic losses from deer ranging from 10% to 20% were subtracted for Maryland (McNew & Curtis, 1997), New Jersey (Drake & Grande, 2002), New York (P. D. Curtis, personal communication, December 12, 2001) and Pennsylvania (G. J. San Julian, personal communication, December 12, 2001). For the other states, where documentation about deer depredation was lacking, a 1% damage estimate was subtracted from each state’s total production value.

Grain Crop Depredation — The estimated annual loss to grain crops for the 13 surveyed states was $77,213,417, ranging from a low of $14,270 for Rhode Island to a high of $26,476,000 for Maryland. Grain crops included corn (silage and grain), soybeans, wheat, and oats.

An average total production value for the grain crops of interest was compiled for the years 1998-2000 for most states. Due to data availability, total production values were averaged for the years 1997-1999 for New Jersey and 1995-1996 for Pennsylvania, and a single year’s production value was used for Maryland (1996). A 5% loss value was subtracted from the total production value for New Jersey (Drake & Grande, 2002), New York (P. D. Curtis, personal communication, December 12, 2001), and Pennsylvania (G. J. San Julian, personal communication, December 12, 2001). The loss value for Maryland was cited from McNew and Curtis (1997). For all other states where documentation about deer depredation was lacking, a 1% loss estimate was used.

Nursery Stock Depredation — The estimated annual economic loss from deer depredation to nursery stock was $27,878,180, ranging from a low of $13,660 for Vermont to a high of $13,628,950 for New Jersey. An average total production value for nursery stock was compiled for the years 1997-2000. A 5% loss estimate was subtracted from the total production value for New Jersey (Drake & Grande, 2002), New York (P. D. Curtis, personal communication, December 12, 2001), and Pennsylvania (G. J. San Julian, personal communication, December 12, 2001). For all other states where documentation about deer depredation was lacking, a 1% loss estimate was used.