It has been a rough year for Northwest Florida farmers! The excessive rainfall has made it difficult to control traditional pests in wet fields. Add to this frustration a pest that is hard to control in good years, and you have a very disappointing season. The deer have made it nearly impossible to farm some fields, especially those near lands managed for hunting such as Wildlife Management Areas.
It is estimated that 200 acres of cotton had to be replanted this year, just in Okaloosa County due to the deer eating the young cotton plants. In a 2009 University of Florida study, farmers lost an estimated $2.8 million dollars in cotton to deer in 9 northwest Florida counties. The study states, “The high percentage of acreage of some crops lost to deer suggests a need for changes in deer management in the region.” However nothing has been done yet to alleviate this problem. Officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) organized a Technical Assistance Group this past winter to address this and other issues related to how deer hunting is managed in the Panhandle, and are proposing some changes for the future: http://myfwc.com/hunting/by-species/deer/dmu/#zoned. Currently, FFWCC is seeking input through a survey: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/zonedantlerlessproposal. It will be important for farmers to add their opinions to this discussion.
For more information on this topic please see the following publications:
Farmer Perceptions of Wildlife Damage to Row Crops in North Florida
Coping with Deer Damage in Florida