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No matter how cute or cuddly — a pest is a pest

Thank goodness the boll weevil does not have big brown eyes and soft, pretty fur. If it did, there would be a swell of public outrage over its ongoing eradication by the ruthless American farmer.

That is the way Americans judge a species’ worth these days right? If it’s cute and cuddly, we can’t touch it. If it’s ugly, bombs away?

For example, a deer has big, brown eyes and pretty fur, and definitely is not in danger of eradication. But its appetite for crops like cotton and soybeans and its propensity to not look both ways before leaping into an automobile grill is on the verge of becoming an epidemic in some parts of the country. Still, some folk stick to the premise that what’s pretty just can’t be bad.

West Tennessee cotton farmer David Ciarloni has seen the damage from cute and cuddly first hand. Ciarloni makes his living farming cotton in mostly suburban Shelby and Fayette counties.

In 2007, deer took to his 176-acre crop like kids to cotton candy at the Mid-South Fair. When it was over, over half his cotton crop was walking around on four legs looking for more.

If you recall in an earlier article in Delta Farm Press, Ciarloni rented the land from the Chickasaw Basin Authority. The farm is surrounded by homes inhabited by people whose last vestige of farming blood apparently evaporated right before the Bronze Age.

Ciarloni obtained a depredation permit from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to kill the deer, but shortly after the shoot started, his neighbors went ballistic, calling the Memphis Commercial Appeal about a farmer shooting deer right and left, even though they knew about it beforehand.

Their actions caused such a ruckus that the permit was pulled, even though Ciarloni hadn’t violated any rules of the permit. Needless to say, Ciarloni’s cotton crop became a buffet for the remaining varmints.

Subsequently, one of Ciarloni’s neighbors, who is not allowed on the property by the way, wrote a letter to the editor to the Commercial Appeal that he had seen Ciarloni’s cotton up close and personal, and it did not appear to him to have any yield damage at all — agronomic expert that he was.

But this fall, when the harvest numbers came in, there was damage, plenty of damage. To quantify the loss, Ciarloni first weighed cotton that appeared to have the least deer damage.

“We went to the better-yielding soil types first and picked a 4-acre check. Then we went to the worst-yielding soil types and picked close to the same amount of acres. It totaled 7.6 acres. We put both checks on one module and ginned it. We came up with 1,035 pounds to the acre.

“Then we picked the remaining 170 acres, ginned it, then added the check total to it to get the total production on the farm. It averaged 519 pounds.”

That is a disastrous 516-pound yield loss, and it’s a low estimate at that because deer damage occurred in the best-yielding cotton, too.

And there was an entire 2-acre corner of a 10-acre field that Ciarloni didn’t even pick. “It was the only field I didn’t carry all the way. We sidedressed it with nitrogen and sprayed it for weevils. But the deer kept it so closely clipped that when I went in with a post-directed spray, I would have been spraying into its new growth. So we just left it alone. The rest of it got fertilizer, chemicals, everything.”

Ciarloni isn’t quite sure how the situation with his pests — both two-legged and four-legged — will be resolved. He doesn’t want to farm without the right to protect his crop, but he doesn’t want to let the farm go either because he’s in the middle of a 10-year lease and has sunk significant capital into improving the land.

Meanwhile, the deer population has exploded in the area, according to Ciarloni. “They’re everywhere. You see them hit lying on the side of the road. It’s a problem all over east Shelby County and west Fayette County.”

Perhaps Ciarloni’s neighbors should step up and provide habitat and food for these wayward deer. The deer can graze on bermudagrass and flower gardens for nourishment and quench their thirst from their swimming pools — living it up in a veritable deer nirvana.

On second thought, they may want to buy a weapon.


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