2021 Food Plot Growing Season Recap
It's always fun in the winter to look back at last year's plot season and reflect on what worked and what we'll do differently in 2022. Here’s the final report of how things went last summer (summer of 2021) for our food plots at the Midwest Monster home farm near Hinckley, Minnesota.
As always, we hope your growing season went well and that you’re looking forward to 2022
Summer 2021 Growing Condition Summary
Dry! That word sums up everything about the 2021 growing season. At the Midwest Monster Home Farm, like almost everyone else in the northern tier states, we have had very little moisture to work with. And yet compared to other areas we’ve actually had it pretty good!
We’ve had just 7.7 inches of rain since June 1 to the end of August, or to put it another way, just over 2.5 inches of rain per month over the summer. This means we have received almost 8 inches less rainfall than we had at this point last year. To make matters worse, 2020 was already our driest year in the past decade, so 2021 was even more difficult in terms of rainfall.
Below: Real World Soybeans in September 2021. Not our best crop, but still an achievement considering the dry conditions.
As I’ve told many customers, the popularity of owning and managing properties for wildlife has greatly increased over the past decade. That coincides with a decade of very high rainfall totals all over the northern tier. This means that many food plot growers have simply never had to deal with adverse weather–other than weather that is too wet, which is a far better problem to have. I encourage everyone to remember that we have to take the good with the bad when it comes to nature. Over the long haul, there’s going to be summers like 2021, we have to take the difficult times in stride.
But it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Even in dry years, there can be bright spots so here’s how we did up to the end of the growing season in September, 2021.
Clover and Perennial Plots
We keep more than half of our total plot acres in Midwest Monster perennial blends like Mega Clover Plus and AlfalfaMAX. There are several reasons for this, and forgive me if you’re heard these before, but I repeat them to help newer growers learn. The first advantage is that deer love clover and alfalfa and there is never a time when they won't eat it. Secondly, perennial plots reduce grower workload because they don't need to be replanted every year.
Finally, in 2021 there was another BIG benefit to having plot acreage dedicated to perennial clover blends--these blends shade, cover, and protect the soil from moisture loss. Planting annual food plot crops usually requires tillage (tilling, disking, etc). Tillage opens up the soil and dramatically speeds up moisture evaporation. Perennial clover blends don’t require this tillage each year, so these plots don’t experience that moisture loss. This is a huge benefit in a dry year. They also keep the soil shaded, which again minimizes moisture loss.
My Mega Clover Plus and AlfalfaMAX plots had a good season all things considered. They weren’t great, but in a year as dry as 2021, I’ll settle for good, thank you very much. I mowed the plots in late June, but I only took off the tops because even then it was starting to get dry. Browsing activity on the clover plots was intense all summer because my plots were the greenest thing for miles around, so the deer took full advantage.
Below: Mega Clover Plus in September 2021.
I sprayed all my perennial plots with both Clethodim (for grass control) and Butyrac 200 (trade name for 2-4-DB) for broadleaf control in June. I was beginning to see a lot of broadleaf invaders , so while I normally only spray for grasses, this year required broadleaf control as well.
We finally got some decent rain in early September, so I lightly mowed the plots again on September 8. At this time I also fertilized the plots with 19-19-19 to encourage some new growth. This mowing/fertilizing combination greatly increased new growth and provided additional food as we move toward fall.
Food Plot Soybeans
At the Midwest Monster farm, we plant both Eagle Forage Soybeans and Real World Gen 2 wildlife soybeans every year. Eagle and Real World are not really competitors, they are different products for different purposes. Eagles excel at feeding deer through the summer and early fall because they produce tons of tasty leaves and the deer are crazy for this tender, high-protein forage. Real World beans, on the other hand, are all about pod production. So the purpose of planting Real World soybeans is to have pods on the plants for the deer to eat after everything else is dead and covered with snow.
The planting date for both Eagle and Real World soybeans was May 30, 2021. Again, we were able to be planted before June 1, only the second time this has happened in the last decade.
Below: Real World Soybeans in August 2021. Lack of moisture, unfortunately, made for very slow growth in 2021.
Germination was excellent and both varieties did well in the early season. I sprayed the plots with Glyphosate on June 19, when the weeds were about to get higher than the beans. The kill was very good and I got away with only one spraying, which is always my goal.
The browsing pressure really ramped up in late June, so I put up the PlotSAVER scent barrier on July 7. In the first week of having the PlotSAVER in place, the camera on the Eagle soybean plot took exactly 1 picture of a deer in 7 days. This is on a prime soybean plot that the deer were hammering before I put up the PlotSAVER.
Unfortunately, as the drought continued, the soybeans became a prime target and the deer became increasingly willing to “hit and run”, ignoring the bad scent long enough to eat their fill, then running out. The PlotSAVER system won’t hold back very hungry deer forever, and when dry conditions slow the growth of the soybeans, the plot really takes a productivity hit. I can’t blame the deer, when all the local ag crops dried out, there was only one good place to eat--my soybeans. Such is life. I would estimate my tonnage per acre yield for soybeans was less than half of a normal year.
Brassicas & Fall Blends
I grow both Brassicas Bender, Midwest Monster’s “pure” brassicas blend, and this season I also chose to grow Real World’s multi-species Deadly Dozen fall blend. You can read about what each blend contains over on the
Planting dates were as follows:
Brassicas Bender - July 8. Brassicas Bender contains more of the “go big” species like turnips and forage radish, so it needs time to mature. Just to repeat what I tell nearly every grower in the northern tier, it’s better to be early than late when it comes to brassicas.
Deadly Dozen - August 11. The Deadly Dozen blend contains lots of species besides brassicas, species like grain and peas, so it needs to be planted later so these additional species won’t over-mature.
The Brassicas Bender was planted in a big hurry after we received a brief rain on July 6. That was the first rain we had had for almost 3 weeks, so I wasn’t about to waste the moisture. The plants took off quickly and by pure luck we received an additional inch of rain when the plants were about 3 inches high. That was the last rain they would receive for another 2 weeks.
Below: Brassicas Bender in September 2021.
Below: Brassicas Bender in September 2021.
Despite the lack of moisture, Brassicas Bender performance was incredible. Brassicas species are fussy, they like enough rain, but not too much rain. 2021 seemed to hit the right balance. As always, I fertilized with 150 pounds per acre of 46-0-0 (urea) when the plants reached 3-6 inches tall. Then they really took off!
The Deadly Dozen benefitted from more moisture as the drought finally broke in early September and we received multiple inches of rain. This blend is a terrific choice for plotters that are limited to planting only in late summer due to time or land use constraints.
Below: A Deadly Dozen plot in September 2021. If you look closely enough, you can see all 12 Deadly Dozen species in this photo.
Deadly Dozen really fills in as the days get cooler. Remember, like all blends that contain brassicas, do not plant too much seed for a given acreage! Both Brassicas Bender and Deadly Dozen don’t produce thick, dense-looking plots until late in their growth cycle. The plants need space to grow. I can’t say enough good things about Deadly Dozen, the deer were still hitting this plot in late November.
I have made several attempts to overseed soybean plots with another crop that will provide more food after the soybeans are all eaten. In past years, I had no success at all. Overseeding or “layering” food plot crops is popular with some well-known internet food plot experts, but none of these experts live in the true north and have to deal with our short season and extreme conditions.
Finally! In 2021, I feel like I cracked the code. I overseeded rye on all my soybean plots and it finally grew into a nice, lush crop that gave some good browsing after the soybeans were gone. Here’s what I did differently that I feel contributed:
Below: Cereal rye seeded into standing soybeans. This picture was taken in September 2021 and at this point the soybeans have been almost totally consumed by the deer.
Timing. I planted the rye on August 25 and this was right after a good rain so the seed fell on wet ground. I broadcast the seed, so it does not get covered by soil so moisture appears to be essential. Even a few days of having the seed lie on dry ground will be enough for the birds to get a huge percentage of it. And earlier would have been better! If I would have had moisture a week or more before, I would have planted.
Application rate. I planted 150 pounds per acre and this heavier seeding seemed to have benefits in terms of making up for the inevitable seed loss due to dry conditions and birds. In the past, I used only half that rate and got almost no crop, so clearly “going big” has an impact on late summer planting where seed loss has to be expected.
How was last season for you?
Hope everyone’s season is going well. I love food plotting, every year brings something different and it’s just exciting to grow plots and think about fall.