Advice from Mr. Food Plot

The second chapter of the combination cover and forage fields series is now interrupted for one issue to give you something special for the upcoming deer hunting season. In addition to the recent find of chronic wasting disease (CWD), which resulted in baiting now being illegal in the Lower, we feel confident that you can sweeten your food plots to more than compensate for the loss of bait to the point of having more and better experiences in the coming deer seasons.

Bait does a good job of putting deer on alert, as a result they choose to visit during the security of darkness; this is certainly the case with mature bucks. With food plots being there 24 hours seven days a week for months, deer feel much more secure visiting them during daylight. Maintaining them for maximum sweetness makes it very difficult for deer to resist. Timing the peak of sweetness to your date of arrival puts the odds greatly in your favor.

The Benefits Of Persistence When Looking For Answers

Our latest book, ‘Ultimate Deer Food Plots’ has most of the proven and recommended methods for planting and maintenance of food plots derived from trial and error efforts. You are not likely to find these instructions in other food plot books or textbooks. Example, without an ounce of tillage, it is possible to have a successful frost seeding in the early spring following the previous years preparation of three timely sprayings of a non- selective herbicide along with broadcasting adequate pelletized lime and fertilizer, with acceptable results even in the lighter soil types. Well, it was not different in finding the answers to sweeten kill plots.

It started in 1992 with an experimental broadcasting of several types of fertilizer around mid September. We broadcasted in separate small locations but near each other for observation at the rate of 50 pounds each per acre of the following, (19-19-19), slow acting nitrogen, (urea, 45-0-0), phosphorous (0-46-0) and potash (0-0-60). This was not our first trial and error variable broadcasting of fertilizer, but our first in mid September to observe deer use and preference. There was nothing unusual to observe in the fields with phosphorous or potash only, while the fields with the blend of 19-19-19 or urea, 45-0-0 showed some promise. I feel that the two small fields of clover showed improvement in deer use but not overwhelming, with the urea only application being best. This experiment encouraged us to continue in this direction.

I have a strong interest in farming and food plotting, but no formal education in agronomy. For sure I’m not a soil or plant scientist but converse with these experts for knowledge. I respect and am grateful for the institutions of learning and research for what they have given us. It took several years with many experiments for the following broadcasting recommendations, and I’m sure they can be improved.

Broadcasting Nitrogen To Sweeten Your Kill Plots

Application timing is important and whatever season you deer hunt, time that broadcasting of urea two weeks prior to the date you use that particular blind or food plot. Example, for that October 1 opening date of the bow season, broadcast 50 pounds urea, (45-0-0) per acre for legume, (clover, alfalfa, soybeans) type food plots on or near mid September. Make that 100 pounds per acre for forage other than legumes. You do not need to broadcast the entire food plot area. For sure you will apply the urea where you want the deer to stand to have their picture taken. The application two weeks prior to blind use is due to urea being a slow acting nitrogen fertilizer. This broadcasting two weeks prior to food plot use applies throughout the hunting seasons, bow or firearm. The only restriction is that there must be forage growing and green. Alfalfa cannot take a hit from a good frost, which quickly goes downhill with leaf loss and lowered palatability, while white and ladino clover stays green under the snow all winter long.

All brassicas can take a heavy frost as well as sugar beets, rye and winter wheat along with winter peas. This may mean a new planting strategy. You are broadcasting that urea on the soil surface not working it in with tillage. Expect the plants root system to absorb around two percent of the broadcasted nitrogen initially. If the weather stays favorable such as cool days of 50 degrees or below with decent rain to move the urea into the soil structure, with time more of the nitrogen will be taken up, and this is what you want for long lasting nitrogen feeding of the plants roots. Biannual plants such as canola, rape, turnips and sugar beets do not die. Their root system stays alive all winter long and can actually grow new leaves under the snow. This is also evident with grains such as winter wheat. They never stop growing all fall and winter long, which makes them a good choice as a forage for the later hunting seasons.

Spraying Nitrogen To Sweeten Your Kill Plots

We have been broadcasting urea to sweeten forage to attract deer in our kill plots for some time and with acceptably results. Yet, our personal results have not been as exciting as some others have experienced. We have received many testimonials to this effect. This may be due to the many choices of forage we offer or who knows? We are satisfied with the practice of broadcasting urea two weeks prior to plot use, but not overwhelmed.

Our trial and error method of finding answers continues and again we feel we have stumbled onto a new finding. We grow Round up ready corn and soybeans, which obviously means we control weeds within these fields with the non-selective herbicide, Round up. We add sprayable granulated ammonium sulfate to the spray tank to enhance the effect of the herbicide, acidify the water and be more wettable. Ammonium is a very active form of nitrogen. Nitrogen is corrosive and breaks down the paraffin coating found on most leaves. This allows the leaf to absorb all sprayed on minerals and herbicide more efficiently. Water usually has a high Ph due to its movement through soil laden with lime. High Ph water has a high surface tension which forms bubbles on surfaces. Nitrogen is an acid, which will lower water surface tension. This allows the water to spread about on the leaf surface, thus getting better absorption of the sprayed material. Under normal weed conditions we spray one quart of Round up plus one quart of sprayable granulated ammonium sulfate per acre. The weeds die, while the corn and soybeans live. We have noticed an appreciable burst of growth and greener leaves, especially the soys soon after a weed control spraying. Deer love soys and we have noted an increase in their appetite of them and yes, soon after a weed spraying. This is a repeat of the broadcasted urea, but now we are feeding the leaves. Would a combination application of nitrogen of feeding the roots and leaves improve the picture?

As mentioned, for the early bow season we usually broadcast urea around mid September. Last year, 2007 we added a spray solution of ammonium sulfate at the rate of one quart per acre plus broadcasted urea at the rate of 50 pounds per acre in a patch of clover and applied it a bit late, the third week of September. We included control patches alongside with the usual 50 pounds of urea and several patches with no mineral additives. This is in an area where I could observe the entire picture and did for ten spaced days in October.

On the first of October six different bucks (unfortunately for me all were yearlings) and a few does with their fawns meandered about the field. They all started out in and kept going back to the double dosed nitrogen patch of clover. As the month of October moved on the attraction of that double nitrogen dosed clover ended up no better than the urea broadcasted only patch. Yet they both held the attraction for deer considerably better than the non- nitrogen applied areas.

You should buy the 99.9% sprayable granulated ammonium sulfate not the liquid form. Ammonium sulfate is 21% nitrogen and 24% sulfur, while the liquid form has the same ratio it is diluted, which can lower the minerals considerably. A tip– certain plants are heavy sulfur users and these include alfalfa, all brassicas and sugar beets.

What’s Happening And Why

For years I have been telling everyone the improved action is due to the addition of nutrients, but couldn’t give specifics. I met up with an old acquaintance recently and this guy in my opinion is not only a very successful farmer, who farms in the many thousands of acres with his extended family, he is also a farm equipment inventor plus a soil and plant scientist. He is Ray Rawson of Isabella County. I told Ray my story and asked him for the reasons deer were attracted to certain nitrogen fertilized plots. It is good to learn from a true expert. Ray can answer in detailed scientific language but I think I picked up the essentials, so here it is. “Ed, deer have a sweet tooth and sugar is what you gave them, with nitrogen as the key ingredient. Nitrogen is a major ingredient in protein. That green stuff in leaves is chlorophyll, which is a form of protein. Chlorophyll working with the sun’s rays through the action of photosynthesis creates sugar and it all starts with nitrogen. Broadcasted urea will be utilized by the plants root system at around 2% initially, with more nitrogen being absorbed in time with favorable weather conditions. Within one hour up to 80% of the sprayed on minerals can be absorbed through the leaf, with up to 100% eventually. You need both applications of nitrogen, one feeding the roots and the other feeding the leaves. Urea being a slow use nitrogen can be applied one time. Ammonium nitrogen is very active and has a short life, thus the reason for the first of October’s big action, with little to no difference with the urea only broadcasted nitrogen by mid October, (around three weeks after application). Therefore ammonium sulfate can and should be applied more than once.” Ray advised two pounds (one quart) of ammonium sulfate per acre spaced a week apart for three weeks as sufficient. The last spraying can be one week prior to the plot use to allow some quiet time or whatever you prefer such as continuous weekly sprayings for a long active blind.

More to learn

Although the many years of seeing the timely broadcasting of urea work by itself is proof enough that this is real, the spraying aspect needs more years for proof positive. I’m about 90% sure that spraying is effective and may be more important in the long run. Therefore we intend to find out the facts this fall and perhaps for a few years down the road with an intensive trial and error program. We ask that you get into this research with us. Please stay in touch, check our website for contact, ( I’m excited about this and have a nice feeling about its potential. It’s a bit early to accurately evaluate this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we are on the cutting edge of new and exciting deer attraction technology. We are looking into adding a variety of catalysts to increase the activity of sugar making within the plant with timing of the hunt being essential. We feel comfortable with the urea broadcasting formula staying as is for now and will concentrate on the spraying answer for ammonium sulfate. We will be pushing trial and error methods to its limits for answers. We will be trying many variances of the spraying application of nitrogen. This includes varying amounts of ammonium sulfate from one pint to two quarts per acre per spray application. We will increase the amount of ammonium sulfate per application until the wall of burnt forage stops us.

Who needs bait when you have knowledge?

There will be an intense effort to find additional answers these coming hunting seasons. Expect a report of the first findings, and hopefully early next year. Normally I keep my research efforts quiet until I find positive answers. I’m now 73 and who knows? So, I’ll leave the waiting for sure answers to the young. Keep the fun in hunting!

Ed Spinazzola is on the Board of Directors Mid Michigan Branch QDMA and the Board of Directors, National QDMA.