Monday, September 17, 2007

NEW JERSEY NEWS: State Cost-Sharing Deer Fence Construction for Farmers

ANDOVER — It is the eternal farmer question: How much can I afford to let the wildlife eat?

A few years ago, John Elwood decided the deer in his neighborhood had eaten enough.

Elwood, who owns Good Hand Farm on Brighton Road, applied to the state and got grant money to help him install a deer fence. Since then, he said the deer have been on a rigid diet, no more of his organic garden.

The state Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for the 2007 deer fence program. If accepted, farmers can get fencing material and up to 30 percent of the cost of line posts needed for installation.

Deadline for applications is Oct. 7 and forms are available from local extension and soil conservation district offices. Further information is available through the Agriculture Department Web site, and click on "news releases" in the left column.

Unlike most fencing, which is about three to four feet high and meant to keep livestock in, wildlife fencing comes in rolls up to eight feet tall and is woven, with smaller spaces near the bottom, meant to keep out small wildlife, such as rabbits, woodchucks and skunks. In most installations, the woven wire is topped by two or three single strands of wire to keep out deer, which can leap more than eight feet high.

The fencing program was developed at Rutgers Cooperative Extension and is cosponsored by the Agriculture Department. This will be the third time the program will be offered and first year it will have a new/beginning farmer category.

In the first two years, about 150 farmers across the state received help with the fence.

According to Rutgers scientists, about 70 percent of crop loss in the state can be blamed on deer with a dollar loss estimated at between $5 million and $10 million each year.

Among the eligibility requirements are that a farmer must document a minimum of $40,000 in agricultural sales or $20,000 in sales of organic products ($5,000 for new/beginner farmer); have not participated in the previous fence program; be the owner of the land or have documented proof of renting preserved farmland; and attend a mandatory fence workshop.

If properly installed, a deer fence will last up to 30 years and the cost can be amortized on the farmer's tax returns.

Elwood chose to enclose about 10 acres of his farm, which sits smack in the middle of excellent deer country. That plot contains the organic garden where he grows produce for sale. "You can't afford to enclose too much of an area," he said. "For some crops, such as hay and corn, you just have to accept that the deer will eat some."

That decision, he said, is an economic one. Some crops, such as hay, have a lower return per acre while an organic garden has a much higher return. Unfenced at his farm is a 10-acre pasture for horses and a 22-acre hay field.

Elwood said a neighbor, Bob Cahill, also has a deer fence for protection, but his crop is the wide variety of plants he grows for his landscaping business.

"The system is entirely effective," he said, then laughed, "except when the owner gets stupid and leaves the gate open."


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