A small group of New Jersey farmers lost nearly $1.3 million to deer damage in 2019, according to a report by Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station released March 28.
Researchers conducted case studies of 27 farmers about their experiences, some dating back to the 1960s, with white-tailed deer regarding environmental damage, safety concerns, management challenges and impacts to operations as the number of deer has grown in the report titled White-Tailed Deer and the Hidden Costs to Farmers’ Livelihoods: A Case Study of New Jersey Stories.
Another study by Steward Green for the New Jersey Farm Bureau found that deer density in New Jersey is far above what’s considered healthy. Ten deer per square mile is the recommended density to maintain social, economic and ecosystem integrity, but for the farms within the case studies, deer density estimates range from 60-239 deer per square mile.
Interviews were conducted between October 2020 and March 2021 with farmers from Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Passaic, Somerset and Warren counties who collectively owned 4,185 acres and rented 8,769 acres.
The $1.3 million is a conservative estimate of deer damage, according to the study, which recorded damage to crops and reduced yields amounting to $520,940, deer-related “hidden costs” that can be assigned a dollar value of $755,200, and crop damage from other wildlife species accounting for additional losses of $97,749.
Other impacts of deer damage include not being able to grow preferred crops; having to replant damaged crops, change rotations, or use more fertilizers and herbicides; weeds competing with crops; soil damage; and time and money spent on management activities. Also recorded within the study is deer damage’s emotional toll on farmers—and that some of them have to abandon fields altogether.
Report co-author and conservation expert Joseph Paulin also included personal stories of how families have been significantly impacted by deer.
“It used to get kind of depressing. A few weeks before Christmas, bucks would come in rubbing right before you were about to sell the trees. That’s a loss of $35,000 per year,” said one farmer.
“Hidden costs are substantial and for many farmers caused greater damage than direct deer destruction to crops,” said Nazia Arbab, a report co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Rutgers.
The report recommends several deer management improvements for the state, including raising public awareness, land access, management in suburban areas and on public lands, and more venison donation programs to help local foodbanks.
“Such knowledge is essential for expanding and enhancing deer management and future policy development,” said report co-author Brian Schilling, director of Rutgers Cooperative Extension.
“In many areas, especially around farms, there needs to be more balance,” said Paulin. “It is important to ensure there is always a healthy deer population while working towards minimizing safety concerns and impacts to farms and forests throughout the state.”