January 30, 2012
By Christian Berg
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.