Still the First Step to
FOOD PLOT SUCCESS By Hollis Ayres
harlie Reynolds is a hunter who manages his family’s farm in Missouri. He’s also a food plotter and, as he says with a chuckle, “the poster child for how important it is to get soil pH right!” Performing a laboratory soil test and following the lab’s recommendations for lime and fertilizer are the best moves you can make to ensure food plot success — and to save money at the same time. In this article, you’ll see Charlie explain how he learned that important lesson the hard way.
All Whitetail Institute forage products come with planting dates and planting instructions on the package. Those are also available at whitetailinstitute.com. The planting instructions are short and designed to be easy to follow. That means, though, that you should follow the instructions step-by-step and not cut corners if you expect to get the best results. Of all the factors that influence food plot success, other than using high-quality seed, none are more important than making sure soil pH is neutral (6.5 to 7.5) by adding lime to the soil if soil pH is low, and that any low levels of important nutrients in the soil, such as phosphorous and potassium, are brought up with fertilizer. As you’ll see from the real-world example that follows, it pays to test your soil with a laboratory soil test kit any time you’re considering buying lime or fertilizer. The Whitetail Institute soil test kit offers the precision that only a qualified soil testing laboratory can provide, which lets you make sure your forage plants have access to all the nutrients they need to thrive — and make sure that you don’t waste money on excess lime and fertilizer purchases. “Our family’s farm was purchased back in the late 1990s,” Charlie said. “About half the property is in timber, and the rest is open areas that had been leased for farming. After we got the property, we con-
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tinued to lease some of the fields to a local farmer to bring in some income. A few years later, we also started taking an active approach in managing the timbered areas to help bring in some extra money and to sustain them. “It wasn’t until about six or seven years ago, though, that we started experimenting with the idea of planting food plots. When I look back on where we started, I can tell you that our level of knowledge today is way beyond what it was in those early days. Back then, we really struggled because we didn’t understand some basic things that can make a huge difference — things that are so important that they can determine whether you will have a great food plot or not, and in some cases whether what you plant will even survive or not. The most important things we learned are how crucial it is to make sure your soil pH is in optimum range before you plant, and that the best way to make sure you do that is with a laboratory soil test kit. “Before we started planting food plots, we noticed that folks who were hunting the farms around ours seemed to be harvesting more deer and bucks with bigger antlers. The only thing we could tell that they were doing that we weren’t was planting high-quality food plots specifically for the deer. So, we set aside a few spots for food plots near the woods in some of the hay fields and areas the farmer had been planting in crops such as corn, sorghum and beans. We disked up the ground, put down some fertilizer and planted. The results weren’t what we had hoped they’d be. The forage plants came up, but they didn’t seem to grow very quickly, and the plots never really got thick and lush. We did see a few more deer, but we had hoped for a better result all around than we got. “One day, I was telling one of our neighbors about the marginal results we’d gotten with our food plots, and he suggested that we call the Whitetail Institute for advice. He said the Whitetail Institute had consultants who really know their stuff and who will help folks over the phone for free. We called the Whitetail Institute’s consultants to figure out what might be going wrong. When I told the consultant how we’d planted and described the problems we’d seen, I was surprised that his first question was, ‘Did you do a laboratory soil test before you planted?’ I told him that we had not because we figured that since the farmer’s hay and crops had done fine in those areas, we assumed the forage we’d planted would too, especially since we’d fertilized before we planted. “The consultant said that when he helps customers diagnose food plot problems, he almost always starts with a laboratory soil test — www.whitetailinstitute.com