- Associated Press - Friday, August 5, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - In Missouri, a number of farmers have turned to food plots to help create a supplemental food source for wildlife, to help attract animals to their property and to help their populations grow for the purpose of aesthetics, recreational hunting and beyond.

The Southeast Missourian reports (http://j.mp/2aEOqcn ) that Tim Kavan, a private land conservationist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, says food plots can be useful to help feed wildlife groups in critical need.

“It’s a food source, a source of nutrition during stressful times of the season,” he says. “Whether it’s deer, turkey, quail or dove, they’re there for the food component, for the nutrition.”

He added there are further benefits beyond nutrition for local wildlife.

“Some of the benefits are just the manipulation of the soil, disturbing it, getting annual weeds to grow, whether it’s pigweed or we’ve got coreopsis, just those annual weeds,” Kavan says. “Over time, it will mature and turn into grass and then unwanted trees, so just having the disturbance and the management on the field is an added bonus.”

Also, the landowner can begin a rotation where food plots are tended to every other year, so they can grow as a wild habitat for turkeys, rabbits, quail and other animals.

“It’s a form of management to disturb the ground and get some new growth instead of it all maturing at the same time; it offers different stages of habitat,” Kavan says.

At a farm in Matthews, Missouri, Kavan pointed out the production of sunflowers to help attract doves. He says once a thrasher runs through the field, the ground-level seeds will create a food source for doves, which have weak beaks and feet unable to crack into seeds like other birds. Also, it creates a sort of sheltered living area for various types of birds do.

“It provides shade and dusting areas,” Kavan says. “All of our bird species, they take baths in dust. They don’t go to water to take baths, so they’ll come out here and dust and get all the insects and parasites off of them that way.”

The draw for farmers to create food plots on their land, Kavan says, could be for personal enjoyment, including activities like aesthetic wildlife viewing, hunting, a sense of involvement on their land and being able to manipulate the land to provide those animals nutrition at different times throughout the year.

For Ed Graves, a farmer south of Biehle, Missouri, his food plots on a 20-acre land area set aside for the Conservation Reserve Program are used to help build an annual quail population to assist in field trialing Brittany hunting dogs.

The CRP is a cost-share and rental program led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered by the USDA Farm Service Agency. In exchange for government money, farmers can develop food plots on their land to help improve environmental quality, conserve the wildlife and build up natural populations throughout the state.

Kavan says the Missouri Department of Conservation also offers cost-share money for farmers to create food plots in pivot corners on farms, in timber openings and in opportunistic areas like near power lines and logging roads.

“Even if you’re not a hunter, the food plot’s still a good alternative as far as a form of management on your property,” he says.

In Graves’ case, he recommends using food plots on an every-other-year basis. In the past, he has had sunflower and milo grain food plots to attract quail.

“Milo seems to work the best for quail,” he says.

Considering quail nest on the ground, Graves decided to place native wildflowers that attract insects to create a food source for the quail chicks once they hatch. Since the flowers are low-lying, the birds have easy access.

Even though some farmers like Graves use food plots to facilitate training programs and for other functions, Kavan says by far, hunting is the top draw for having a food plot.

“That sense of, if you harvest an animal on something that you did, you know, last year you invested the money, the blood and the sweat and the research, and you’re able to harvest that animal, that’s just a sense of fulfillment on your property,” he says. “You changed the landscape from X and made it Y, and it proved to be successful and put food on the table.”

There are different types of grain food plots, ranging from corn to sunflowers to soybeans and beyond. Green browse food plots consist of clover, wheat or rye, and offer forage consumption throughout the winter.

Kavan says food plots can cost around $200 an acre, with variance throughout the year, when the costs for soil testing, fertilization, seed, the tractor and fuel are combined.

Kavan says thought and care should be put into planning, especially considering where the plot is located and of what it consists. For instance, in certain cases, manipulation of the land every other year is discouraged.

“When it comes to waterfowl, manipulation is a no-no. You have to let it grow and you cannot disturb that grain, then you start getting into baiting issues and that is a federal offense,” he says. “So you’ve got to know the parameters of the species you’re looking to take.”

Kavan says having active food plots on farms may increase the property value, and could make the property more appealing to potential buyers. More than anything, he sees it as an opportunity for the landowner’s personal enjoyment and to help keep the wildlife happy and healthy.

“The whole take on point is the management,” Kavan says. “It’s disturbance, it’s getting a complexity of annual grains and native vegetation and cover all within a certain framework, and that’s what the wildlife really need to complete their life cycle.”

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Information from: Southeast Missourian, http://www.semissourian.com

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