The Main Causes of Food Plot Failure

Home » Blog » Forestry » Forest Management » The Main Causes of Food Plot Failure

Food Plots – What Not to Do

By Steve Chilcote, Forester, Wildlife Biologist

Stephen A. Chlcote Land & Timber Consulting

This year I have been called out to go look at food plots that were established and then let go, or half way established and the client is in a big hurry to get something planted this year.  It got me thinking about how food plots can go wrong and the mistakes I have made and see others making with their plots.

I think the two main reasons food plots fail are:  taking shortcuts to get them done in a hurry and failure to properly maintain them.  I am certainly guilty of both and since all my plots are on some one else’s land I can only do what they pay me to do.

Improper Establishment

It is now October and the weather is getting cold early this year.  Yet, I have a client who has cleared some acreage and wants to get something growing in them this year.  I will go and plant the fields with some triticale but the fields are not even properly prepared.  The ground is still too rocky and no soil testing has been done.  The landowner has spread lime and fertilizer.  This can’t hurt but it is not money well-spent.  One should never apply lime and fertilizer without a soil test.  It is too expensive to waste any of it.

Better to wait a year and keep working on the site preparation.  In spring, I will have a contractor come in with a chisel plow and rock picker and pick rock for a few days.  Then we will apply the appropriate lime and till it in with a disc harrow.  Only then should we plant the seed and fertilize it according to what we planted and what is called for in the soil test.  Legumes need no nitrogen and adding it will get you weeds.  On the other hand, brassicas need lots of it and will respond well to additional nitrogen in the soil.  Spreading lime and fertilizer should be a measured, precise activity.  In our haste, we sometimes cannot wait for testing and spread amendments just to get something done.  Heavy rains have washed away the fertilizer pellets and wasted expensive material on this particular property.  Better to have the land ready to till so the amendments can be tilled in and will stay on site.

Taking shortcuts will get you into trouble.  I often hurry things up to get things done and am sorry for it later when I am re-planting food plots after wasting expensive seed and amendments.  Don’t be afraid to wait until the time is right to plant – even if you have to wait a year.

Improper Maintenance

Poor or no maintenance is the worst mistake of all because there is no excuse for it.  Once a good stand of forage is established, the hard part is over and you can cruise for years with very little expense and effort.  However, many folks who hired me to establish food plots never did anything else to them.  I drive by and get frustrated at the grass and weeds growing in them after all that work getting them established.  I find this most often in hunting clubs where some of the members wanted to establish food plots and some did not.  When they miraculously did not all shoot monster bucks that year, the nay-sayers will start in with the “I told you those food plots wouldn’t work” routine and the club looses interest.  Poor hunting practices causes more hunting failure than poor habitat work, but that’s a subject for another article.

This year I planted a soybean plot.  I underestimated two things: how aggressive foxtail is in hot weather and how well the deer liked forage soybeans.  The field was only 1.7 acres and although I sprayed the Roundup-ready beans to kill off the grass that was coming in, the deer ate the bean plants down to the nothing and the foxtail is now 5 feet tall.  I had to spray the field again and the food plot is wasted.  Learning from this mistake, I will place an electric fence around the field next year and make sure I get in there for a second application of glyphosate.  I should have a good stand of beans by the end of the growing season in September and take down the fence.  I was even thinking of broadcasting some brassica seed into the beans on Labor Day.  As the beans get eaten up the brassicas should come on and provide maximum tonnage of forage out the small food plot.

Too Much of a Good Thing

I have taken soil tests in food plots where landowners have been applying lime and fertilizer and the results showed way too much of one or more nutrients and way to high of pH.  When one macronutrient is out of whack, it can actually inhibit the uptake of the proper balance of the other nutrients.  Most crops thrive in a neutral to slightly acid soil.  Any pH over seven is too much lime and not necessary and can even be detrimental.  Bottom line is use a soil test.

If you need some advice on your food plot or any other forestry or habitat realated subject, give me a call at 814-360-4510.


Food Plot Taken Over by Foxtail



About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.