With a few clicks of a button, farmers can use Mississippi State University's new app to map out where feral hogs have been as well as assess the cost from the damage.
"The genesis of creating an app came from wanting a standardized method for collecting locations where feral hogs are causing damage on a landscape," said Bronson Strickland, MSU St. John Family endowed professor of Wildlife Management and Extension wildlife specialist. "We hope with enough data collected we can better determine patterns and trends of where pig populations are the greatest and causing the most problems."
With the information, the researchers hope to refine their economic estimates as well as formulate solutions for people with feral hogs on their land.
Mark McConnell, app developer and assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture in the College of Forest Resources, said the best way to help find solutions is to know the enemy well.
"This app will give us data we don't currently have," McConnell said. "There are annual estimates of hog damage, and there's a map that shows the distribution and how it changes each year. However, with the app, we hope to add more specific spatial information about where feral hog damage is occurring. It will help us better know how our enemy operates, which will give us the ability to counter the attack.
"When the idea came to me, farmers were my target audience. The app is for anyone, but essentially, it allows the user to conveniently quantify damage in real-time."
How the app works
When farmers encounter feral hog damage in their fields, they can use the app to enter an estimate on the magnitude of the damage, draw a map of where the damage occurred, and take a picture to document the impact in real time.
"The user gets an acreage calculation from the app and allows the user to input how much the damage is going to cost," McConnell said. "We know hogs are just about everywhere, especially in Mississippi, but with enough adoption to this app, we will be able to see the magnitude of the damage and how it varies across landscapes."
With the free app, a farmer can choose the crop affected and the stage of growth to provide more information on the cost. After downloading the app, the user will need to provide a name and an email address. The email address will only be used to contact the person if there is a question about a specific entry.
"The data remain the users, and personal data are not going to be shared," Strickland said. "The data are aggregated or combined, so we never report anything specific about a particular person or farm. We put all the information together to report the damage on a regional level.
"All we want to know is where feral hogs are causing damage, so we can inform management organizations where to focus resources, and to help us researchers better understand the ecological patterns associated with hog population expansion. We hope this will result in resource allocation, funding for efforts that would be used to control feral hog populations."
Economic estimates and research
The app can also be used to refine economic estimates. In Mississippi research, it was determined that in any given year the economic damages from feral hogs are between $60 million and $70 million.
"Feral hog damage varies and damage to infrastructure is the costliest," Strickland said. "It's not just the loss of corn bushels, but it's the damage done to the field that's going to require equipment to come in and repair the wreckage. Another example is a rice farmer. It's one thing to lose a couple of bushels of rice, but it's another thing when hogs tear a levee down.
"From a research survey perspective, you only have a handful of people on a handful of days who can go out and walk a field or fly a drone to survey feral hog damage. We're trying to put the research tools in the hands of the producers who are already surveying their property, so we can get a much broader characterization of the Delta area and beyond."
"Hopefully, we can use the research to develop some useful solutions to help crop farmers and tree farmers alike, or anyone who is experiencing damage," McConnell said, "either by helping them mitigate the damage or addressing how to fight and reduce problems with feral hogs in a little bit quicker time by knowing how hogs distribute themselves across the landscape."
Feral hogs at planting
Crops are the most vulnerable right when they're planted, and feral hogs often come in soon after a crop is planted.
"I heard about a farmer from a friend of mine a few years back who planted corn three times in a row," McConnell said. "The hogs kept coming; he experienced a much more disproportionate amount of damage than normal."
Depending on the time of the season when hogs come through a field, the damage may be more costly.
"For example, if hogs come right after a field is planted, there may be time to replant the field," McConnell said. "If they come later in the season, the field won't get replanted and could be even more costly. The timing and amount of damage are important in determining the cost.
"The more information we have the better tools we can develop to try to combat this problem."
To watch a couple of demo videos on how to use the feral hog damage app, go to https://www.wildpiginfo.msstate.edu/apps/.
The app is available for download in the Apple Store. Visit https://apps.apple.com/us/app/feral-pig-damage/id1265239102. Android download is available at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.bugwood.feralpigdamage.