As hunters and wildlife property managers, most of us spend a fair portion of the winter thinking about--what else!--spring. And about what we're going to try this year that's different.
Since we're an Eagle Seed Dealer here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the subject of corn as a food plot crop comes up quite often. It seems like a great idea and many food plotters get the itch to try corn after they see deer lined up to get into the 8 rows of corn the neighbor left on the edge of his field.
Wouldn't it be great if we had standing corn on our property too?
Well yes, to an extent, it would. Corn is high protein and high calorie and deer are always going eat as much of this food as they can get. Basically, deer love corn. No two ways about it. If you've got standing corn and your neighbor doesn't, guess where the deer are going to go to feed if all other things are equal?
Now the other side of the story.
Here's what you need to consider before planting corn. There are some things about corn that may make other choices better for you and your property, including:
Corn needs space. Lots of space! To produce enough corn to provide a significant food source for deer, you need acres of it in most places. An acre of corn doesn't last long after the raccoons and the deer find it Large farm fields can handle some loss to deer and other critters, but if your corn food plot is the main attraction for miles around, you have to grow acres of it in order to have anything left by hunting season in most areas.
There are only so many ears of corn on each plant. Once they are gone, there's very little attraction to a plot of dry, bent over corn stalks.
Corn is equipment intensive. I know some will argue that you can plant corn with a broadcaster and yes, you can indeed. But it's much easier to plant and manage if you use a corn planter. Which, of course, costs money. From what I've seen at auctions and online recently, small 2 row planters are being snatched up and for a considerable sum.
Of course, once you buy a planter, you have to how to set it up and make it work. This is NOT a minor task, it takes time and patience. Many of us didn't grow up farming, so we're starting from Square One when it comes to setting up and using a planter.
You also need a sprayer big enough to cover the field in a reasonable amount of time and most growers will need to spray corn at least once and usually twice. I've talked to lots of food plotters that decided to upgrade their sprayer after getting tired of the slow progress that comes with a sprayer that's undersized.
Corn is a fertilizer hog. The fact is that corn loves nitrogen and it needs a LOT of nitrogen to do well, especially when compared to other food plot crops like forage soybeans or clover, which need almost no nitrogen. Nitrogen costs money.
Many food plotters who aren't framilliar with farming are shocked when I tell them that their fertilizer bill for a significant field of corn will involve writing a check for hundreds or thousands of dollars to cover the fertilizer bill. Farmers often tell me that fertilizer doesn't cost money, it pays money back, but we're not farmers.
Weather dependent. Corn needs the right soil and the right amount of rain and sun. To really yield well, you need good ground for corn. You need good soil, that's well-drained, but not too sandy. Corn does not like steep hillsides or lowlands that stay wet. Corn needs sun and heat units and it needs a lot of moisture relative to other food plot crops. Having heat but no moisture, or moisture but no heat is going to be a big problem for corn.
The food plotters that seem to have the most success with corn seem to fit this profile:
Diversified. Corn is one part of their large-scale, diversified food plot program. They have the plot acreage to plant big plots of corn (3-5 acres or more) in a single stand and still plant and manage other crops to produce the tonnage and variety needed for a balanced strategy.
Equipped. They don't mind buying equipment and fertilizer and they know how to use it or they hire their planting done. To efficiently plant and grow corn, you need a good planter, a good sprayer, a good broadcaster spreader, and a good tractor to pull it all. All this equipment costs money and needs storage and maintenance.
Optioned. They are not relying on one plot of corn to provide great hunting from early to late season. They have options so that if the corn doesn't work out, or runs out early, they are still able to use Plan B, C, D, E and probably F to hunt successfully.
Invested. Most corn-growing wildlife property managers I know have invested large sums in their properties. They view spending the extra hundreds or thousands of dollars to plant and fertilize good size plots of corn as just prudent icing on an already well-decorated cake.
The bottom line is corn can be a great addition to a food plot strategy, but it has some intensive requirements in order for it to really pay off.
If you don't fit the corn success profile, don't worry. There are PLENTY of great alternatives that can pay off just as well as corn for most property managers.