So many who listen to me speak at seminars are surprised that I rarely talk about products. Most of my communicating involves soil health and little overlooked tricks that are rarely talked about in the wildlife magazines or online. When newbies to the food plot world ask for advice, I wish more people would think like farmers. In today’s blog, I’ll explore this some more.
The most important thing one can do before planting a food plot is take a soil test. Without a soil test your gambling. You will either create nutrient deficiencies, nutrient toxicities, or have reduced yields. If your low on ph., you could be only getting 37% use of the fertilizer you put down. If you have phosphorous deficiency, you might see your seed taking off much slower than ideal. If your short of potassium, you could see standability issues, perennials fizzling out faster than normal as well as reduced yields. If you are lacking nitrogen you’re going to see reduced yields as well as lower plant protein and quality issues. Palatability can suffer as a result.
Think like a farmer. What is your limiting factor? If you only put 100 lbs. of nitrogen down, do you think you will grow 200-bushel corn? There is always a hope and prayer but why plant corn that doesn't make decent ears and is way below average on yield? If you plant soybeans are you ok settling for 20 bushels per acre yield when 40 bushels is the norm? Learn what it takes to grow normal yields, whether it be corn, soybeans, clovers or brassicas. Most do not know what it takes. Farmers that didn’t understand these things either went broke or are not making much money in their livelihood.
Here is my first-year program I recommend to clients no matter where they live in the US. For spring plantings, plant annual clover blends or cool season soil building mixes. If you want to get a crop planted until June, then plant forages like sunn hemp, buckwheat, sorghum, and other warm season annuals. If your first planting is during the early fall, focus on annual clovers, reduced input brassicas and forages that radish and turnips.
Year 1 goals for every new food plotter is the following:
1)Flush weeds, smother weeds and work on reducing weed load in the seed bed.
Fixate nitrogen to reduce input costs.
2)Build organic matter. Organic matter is the 2nd most important factor after soil ph., yet so many people overlook it.
3)Sequester nutrients. Forages like radish and bulbs, uptake nutrients and rerelease them the following spring. This acts a little like “time release fertilizer.”
4) Understand basic planting principles like seed depth, seed to seed to soil contact, proper seed bed management.
5) Think to next year. Know how what you plant the current year will affect the next year’s crop.
6) Learn what nutrients are mined from the soil per ton of growth of whatever you plant. Know how to fertilize to maintain soil balance with whatever you plant.
7) If your soil is low on p or k, DON’T plant forages that require a lot of p and k. Use year one to rebuild soil nutrient levels.
8) Create a budget. Learn what will help you stay on budget and what are best options for the budget you set forth for yourself.
9) Observe, Learn and pay attention to what the deer are telling you.
10) Do not rush to spend a lot of money on equipment that might not be needed for your situation. Just because your buddy has a fancy no til drill, and other high dollar equipment, that doesn’t mean you need to have it as well. Start small and focus on the soil first.
Here are the questions I always ask someone before giving sound recommendation.
Have you planted food plots before? If so, how many years?
What equipment do you have access to?
How many acres of total land and how many acres of food plots on this area?
Have you taken a soil test on all plots within the past 2 years? If so, please provide those sample results if possible.
What is your deer density on your land and vicinity?
Do you have aerial maps/google earth maps?
If an existing plot, what was planted on it the previous year.
What has been your biggest challenge in the past?
What are your goals?
What is your budget?
What is the overall health of the deer herd and typical size and genetics of the bucks?
Where is the property located?
Does the property currently have habitat and water?