Five million pounds of plant biomass — that’s about how much Mississippi’s 1.75 million to 1.9 million deer eat in a day.

And in agricultural areas a goodly chunk of that consumption consists of soybean plants, says Bronson Strickland, associate Extension professor with the Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture.

 “It’s no secret that deer love soybeans, and the impact on the state’s agriculture is significant,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Agricultural Consultants Association. “Anywhere there is a soybean field and there are deer within walking distance, you’re going to have feeding. Even where the deer population is small, there may still be damage.

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“Soybeans are the perfect deer food — there’s nothing better than soybean plants from the standpoint of palatability, digestibility, and food protein. If there is any plant that’s designed for deer to love and to thrive on, it’s soybeans. For those who want to cultivate a deer population, there’s nothing better for food plots than soybeans.

“With the deer population we have in Mississippi, with each animal consuming an average of 432 pounds of forage over the growing season, it affects which trees survive and grow, what plants grow in our forest understory, the composition of the overall plant spectrum. If you have 20, 30, 50, or more deer browsing in a soybean field, there’s a tremendous impact on the potential production of that field.”

Losses could be even greater than these estimates, he says, because there has been no definitive research on the extent of the problem.

Strickland, along with Steve Demarais, professor of wildlife management; Tom Eubank, assistant Extension/research professor at the Delta Research and Extension Center; and graduate student Caleb Hinton, will soon start the second season of a study funded by the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board aimed at developing a comprehensive picture of soybean losses to deer.

“What we’re trying to determine is how we can manage and minimize the damage they cause to agriculture,” Strickland says.

There are, he notes, divergent viewpoints about the state’s deer, even among farmers, many of whom are themselves hunters and/or derive income from deer hunts on their land.

“There are some who look at it from another angle —soybeans mean big antlers on deer. It’s no coincidence that in Iowa, Illinois, or other states with huge soybean acreages they grow a lot of big deer. It’s also no coincidence that deer in the Mississippi Delta are bigger than those in south Mississippi. A lot of that’s due to the easy access to soybeans and the good dirt that’s growing those soybeans. The nutrition provided by soybeans also has a big impact on the fertility of does and the survival of fawns.”