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Christian Berg: Stuck In The Rut Land Management Whitetail

Modern Food Plot Practices: Are We Poisoning Ourselves?

by Christian Berg   |  January 30th, 2012 15

I need to tell you right up front I’m not a tree hugger. I don’t drink raw milk, buy groceries at the organic health-food store or drive a hybrid. But like pretty much all the red-blooded American sportsmen I know, I consider myself a conservation-minded person who cares about the health of the environment. We in the hunting community talk a lot about preserving the future of our sport, which involves everything from introducing the next generation to making sure quality habitat is protected from threats such as suburban sprawl and energy development. But when it comes to the topic of food plots, I sometimes wonder whether we’ve lost our way when it comes to the conservation ethic and sustainability.

Before I go any farther, I want to again remind you that I am hardly on the radical environmental fringe. And I ENJOY hunting over a good food plot as much as anyone. Heck, I travel to Illinois for a prime rut hunt every November, and part of my enthusiasm for that hunt is tied to the fact that I know the landowner does a great job with his food plots, which help hold plenty of deer on the property. That said, I really can’t think of a single person who I know personally that manages a successful food plot WITHOUT the use of various chemicals, particularly when it comes to controlling weeds in the plots.

What really got me thinking about this again today was an article I read online about a recent study conducted by a university over in Germany. You can read the article HERE, but in summary, what the article basically found is that residue from glycophospate (Roundup weed killer) is basically ubiquitous in the environment and concentrations of it can be found in just about everyone’s urine. Depending on the person, those concentrations can range from low to many, many times those considered safe in drinking water. And while I don’t claim to be an expert on environmental health and safety, all you have to do is a quick Google search to unearth a plethora of evidence that links high exposure to Roundup to such fun things as cancer, infertility, birth defects, obesity and mental illness. And I don’t mean to just pick on Monsanto (the company that makes Roundup). There are plenty of other chemicals commonly used on food plots, and I wouldn’t volunteer to drink a glass of any of them.

There’s no doubt that using chemicals greatly enhances food plot performance. Trust me, I’ve seen some awesome managed properties and enjoyed some great hunts on them. If you have the time, equipment and money to afford it, you can create food plots that are as well manicured as a golf course (another industry that goes heavy on the chemicals), and you WILL have deer eating them. But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a better way. Is there an organic food plot movement within the hunting community? If so, I haven’t heard of it, but I’m willing to bet there are at least a few people out there trying to do without chemicals. My guess is it’s not nearly as easy.

Of course, sitting here behind my desk at the magazine office, it’s easy for me to point the finger at property managers. The truth is, I’ve never had the luxury of owning my own hunting land, so I don’t have to worry about how to control the weeds in my clover plot. However, I’d like to think that if I did own a couple hundred acres of dirt, I’d be concerned about the possible long-term impacts of dumping tons and tons of chemicals onto my ground over a period of decades.

Granted, the use of agricultural chemicals for food plot use is barely a ripple in the water when compared to amount of chemicals used in commercial farming operations. I don’t have any statistics, but I feel confident saying food plotters represent only a small fraction of 1 percent of chemical use. On the other hand, we sportsmen are often quick to hold ourselves up as “leaders in conservation” and “stewards of the environment.” That being the case, I wonder if a little more self reflection isn’t in order when it comes to the way we manage our own hunting properties.

So, what do you think? Am I crazy? Unrealistic? Spot on the money? Please share your thoughts and give it to me straight. I think it will be a very interesting discussion.


  • Lindsay Thomas Jr.

    Christian, I think this is a great conversation to have. As a steward of wildlife and habitat, I often wonder about the potential negative effects of things we do to manage deer, and there is plenty of potential. Clearing food plots on slopes too close to streams can lead to soil erosion and stream damage. Apply too much fertilizer and the excess not used by plants can end up in streams, degrading water quality and fish habitat downstream. And… yes… apply too much herbicide, or the wrong kind of herbicide, or at the wrong time, or in the wrong area, and those chemicals can cause harm to beneficial plants, water quality, wildlife or even ourselves.

    There are several "fixes." First, put food plots in their proper order in your management efforts: They should be supplemental to natural forage and browse made available through managing for habitat diversity. You can create far more forage, more cheaply, and with less effort, by putting sunlight on the ground, or using prescribed fire to set back plant succession. There are numerous techniques, including several that can be used by folks who don't own the land they hunt, and these should be explored before emphasis is placed on food plots.

    Second, manage food plots correctly. Don't guess on the amount of fertilizer needed. Conduct a soil test and apply the correct amount of lime and fertilizer. This helps avoid over-fertilizing and potentially polluting surface water or groundwater.

    Third, when it comes to weeds, know the weeds you are fighting and the best way to attack them. Some weeds can be controlled without herbicides. Some weeds are actually beneficial plants for deer and other wildlife and should NOT be controlled, but encouraged!

    When herbicides are the best approach for your problem, know the correct herbicide to use, and READ the label. The application instructions on the label are meant to maximize the effectiveness of the product, prevent potential damage to non-target plants and animals, and protect your health and safety. NEVER assume you know how to use herbicides. Read the label!

    In the case of glyphosate, mis-use of this product is leading to the creation of glyphosate resistance in some species of weeds. This comes from not following the label! Read the label and follow the instructions to the letter, applying no more and no less than the amount of herbicide recommended. Many people assume that the more Roundup you spray, and the more often you spray it, the deader the weeds. That's not true; this approach is exactly what is producing glyphosate-resistant weeds.

    So, I share your concerns, but in most cases, if people are wise about food plot management and how they use herbicides (when they are necessary), trouble can be avoided.

    • john Balasa

      I have four food plots. Never used any chemicals nor artificial fertilizers.
      This season I harvested 9 deer which means , meat in the freezer. Please stop using chemicals for sake of our children. I am sixty-two years old. I don’t care about my self too much ,but I do care about my grandchildren.
      Don’t forget deer likes weeds too. God made weeds for a reason for us as humans and, for wild life, alike. Happy hunter in Virginia.

  • Christian Berg

    Thanks for your comment Lindsay. This topic is actually more up your alley at QDMA than mine. However, I do think it is an important topic, and I would love to see the topic of "organic food plot management" covered in a future issue of Quality Whitetails. I am not saying most people are going to adopt that method, but let's just say you DON'T want to put chemicals on your ground. If that's so, can you still have a successful food plot program (in conjunction with your other management practices) and how do you do it?

  • pete

    If you talk to organic farmers you will find out that they find deer quite annoying. They will readily ignore the neighbors corn and graze theirs to smithereens. Why? Organic forage is more nutritious and healthier. That means your organically managed food plot can potentially attract more and healthier animals.

  • Buck-Man

    I would love to not use herbicides on my plots ,darn weeds and grasses come back anyways.

  • Christian Berg

    Buck-Man, I agree that most of us would LIKE to use as few chemicals as possible, or none at all, on our plots. Which brings me back to the question I raised in my original post: If there could be a market for seed and other products designed specifically for "organic" food plotting, why hasn't anyone in the marketplace stepped up in an effort to serve that segment of consumers?

    Call me crazy, but I think there's a nice little niche of business available for those willing to give it a try…

  • Dr. Earl


    It's spelled Glyphosate, and if it makes you feel any better, I don't think you should sweat it's use on the food plots you hunt, which nationally probably amount to more like 1/1000 of 1% of the total use of glyphosate in the US.

    Plus, there are A LOT MORE potentially dangerous chemicals that farmers use on an equal AND greater national scale as glyphosate. Not that that makes the situation any better, but glyphosate is the tiniest of canaries in the enormous coal mine of chemical pollutants in our environment. It just happens to be one of the chemicals that's available "over the counter" to the average food plot grower.

    I do commend your bringing up the questions and pondering the impact. Until some really scary #$%& hits the fan with the general population finding out how the farm industry (HUGE lobby) is helping to pollute our groundwater with very toxic chemicals, you might as well wish for a 100% tax refund. Hunt on my friend…

  • Luke

    I am an avid hunter and I also work in the agricultural industry as well. There are many stories that people have come up with about Glyphosate, harming the world but there have been no factual statements by any government bodies that Glyphosate (Round Up) is harmful. The thing with organic is, you might as well not plant anything at all because the weeds choke out any beneficial plants and there is nothing for the deer to eat.

  • chris moser

    Luke. the reason why there is no evidence is because big busines pays our govt to shut up. Bottom line is that almost every thing that we use as humans destroys and pollutes and yeah maybe each chemical on its own is not really that harmful, but you mix them all together and youve got a toxic soup that we all consume. They did a study on my local river for anti deppressants and found that we are consuming alarming rates from our drinking water. Everything we touch as humans is destructable in the quanities we create. And you really dont have any idea of the rates at which your consuming all of these.

  • Matt

    I am fortunate to hunt on a farm that has been certified organic since the mid 80's and I am for one am glad to read an article from someone in the "industry" not afraid to call out the use of chemicals. By using the "m" word – Monsanto, Mr. Berg has stuck his neck, reputation and career on the line. Monsanto makes it there practice to squelch any anti-chemical talk in a quick way.
    My family proudly eats as much organic as we can and makes no excuses about that. I do own my own land as well and have talked with my organic farming neighbor about instituting organic food plots on my ground. He has been more than willing to assist me with them.
    I, too, would love to see an article or two about non-chemical alternatives to deer and wildlife food plots. Again, Mr. Berg, thank you for your boldness and willingness to step outside the box.

  • Christian Berg

    Thanks Matt. Didn't realize I was putting my career and reputation on the line! Just asking an honest question. Like I said in my original post, I don't claim to be an expert on environmental health and safety. Heck, apparently i did not even spell the name of the chemical right. But at the very least, if we sportsmen are going to hold ourselves as stewards of the environment, we should not be afraid to have an honest discussion about the consequences of our actions and — if there is a better way — be willing to consider that.

  • serious bowhunter

    Great article, and yes, a gutsy topic to take on. I live in the eastern, lower stretch of the Platte River bottom in Nebraska. Intensively farmed with row crop, irrigation. And for most farmers, crop rotation is a thing of the past, and we're seeing corn planted on some of the same fields for 20 years in a row. So, yes, lots of chemicals coming into play. My hometown, pop. 1200 or so, has seen a very high concentration of various cancers and many people from that town wonder aloud (and even more do so quietly) since we are a farming community if there is a connection? Maybe every small town thinks they have an abnormally high concentration of cancer, but the amount of chemicals that are used do worry me. The comment above saying there were no factual statements about Round-up being harmful puzzles me. I know when I was a kid riding the bean buggy, we were told to take various precautions, even by a farmer who I'd not consider a real "safety concern" kind of guy (he smoked and drank excessively). Today, I would not let my own children ride a bean buggy and spray Roundup like that.

  • Shaun

    While the conversation is worth while I have to say that by far more deer eat crops sprayed with roundup etc that are planted for human use than are planted strictly for food plots. I doubt the food plot share is greater than .01 percent of what is planted for agricultural purposes. It's the same argument made here in MS several years ago about feeding deer corn. The powers that be stated that the potential for high levels of aflotoxins in corn fed to deer were the reason that it was illegal to bait. But, it's perfectly legal to plant a corn patch and leave the corn standing or bush hog it down for the deer. Not to mention the millions of lbs of corn left in the field every year due to waste from the combine. By using roundup resistant crops you can now no-till many crops thus reducing soil erosion which contributes to over nutrification of our lakes and streams with is far more worrisome than the fact that traces of roundup can be found in our urine.

  • Frank

    Mr. Berg , I think you have raised a very relevant subject.
    Let's look at the bigger picture. Hunting for deer has become nothing more then the same silly behavior of kindergarten boys, mines bigger, mines better, mines faster, etc…
    Does anyone really think that there is something organic? Yes there are half ass attempts at " organic" and that is all they are.You will find all types of man made chemicals in all food.
    Before all you ADD,ADHD, non focusing people start pounding your key boards, I consider all the wildlife/fish I hunt as food.

    I haven't found the 180-200 class buck antlers tasting any better then the fork horns. What I have found is my freezer is always full of 1-2 yr old does that taste way better then any buck meat in rut. The bigger and older they are the more toxins they have, just like us.
    If a person knows how to hunt, there is no need for food plots. Pay to hunt places create the very thing people are attempting to get away from, contaminated food. The ability to turn wildlife into food has become a business. I think that's wrong. If a person has the ability, they will survive, if not, quite wasting my oxygen.
    ", I really can’t think of a single person who I know personally that manages a successful food plot WITHOUT the use of various chemicals, particularly when it comes to controlling weeds in the plots."
    There you go you are telling everyone to use chemicals.
    The picture of the fat boy at the top of the original post has a lot more to worry about then round up. Heart disease, diabetes,colon cancer, etc…
    If it's an animal it's food. Get busy doing, become one with your prey.

    • Guest

      You wrote: ” I really can’t think of a single person who I know personally that manages a successful food plot WITHOUT the use of various chemicals, particularly when it comes to controlling weeds in the plots.”

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