Standing Corn Food Plot
Standing corn makes a great food plot. States known for growing large bucks are also known for growing acres of corn. In fact the top three corn producing states in 2015 were Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska. Ask any whitetail hunter what their top destinations for hunting whitetails are and all three of those states will likely top the list. The link between the availability of quality food and antler size has been studied many times and as most whitetail hunters know, in order for a buck to grow larger antlers he needs many different things to happen and one of these is quality nutrition.
Because many hunters have made the connection between quality nutrition and larger antlers, corn has become a staple in most property owners’ management plans. But should it be? In states like Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois a bad word about corn can get you kicked out of the state, but is corn really as good as it appears on the surface. It’s definitely a quality food plot crop and it can do wonders for improving a deer herd’s health. However, corn may not be the best choice as a food plot crop for your property because for as many benefits a standing corn food plot can provide, there are drawbacks as well. So, what are some of these benefits and drawbacks of standing corn food plots? Let’s take a look.
STANDING CORN BENEFITS
Deer love corn, there is no denying that. Corn is an annual, warm-season grass that is high in fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates is a vital energy source for deer. In northern parts of the country, winter can be an extremely stressful time for deer and a quality source of carbohydrates are needed to get the deer herd into the spring healthy enough to birth and raise fawns, or grow antlers.
Another way that corn can benefit your deer herd during a harsh winter is the thermal cover. If you live in northern areas of the country you know how cold it can get. But it’s not the ambient temperature that is the true problem, it’s the wind. Wind chills can easily drop below zero and when these winds really start to pick up, whitetails seek cover that helps protect them from these winds. A corn plot that is left standing into the late season does just that. If deer enter the corn plot just 20 yards toward the center of the field, the wind becomes almost nonexistent. Combine that with the fact that the deer don’t have to travel to get a quality source of carbohydrates and you can see why a standing corn field can be a life saver for deer.
Corn doesn’t just make good cover during the winter, but just a couple months after planting, the standing corn food plot reaches a height where deer can start using it as security and bedding cover. One of the main reasons that deer use corn plots for cover is because hunters rarely enter them. Once a corn plot is planted and the weeds are sprayed, there’s no reason for anyone to ever enter the standing corn plot. Unlike woodlots where hunters may enter the woods every week to check trail cameras, spray food plots, or are just using the property for general recreation.
In some areas of the country like Nebraska or Kansas, a corn field may be the best, or only, available cover. Because of this, deer have no other option but to use the cornfield as bedding cover. In this type of situation a corn field becomes extremely valuable to the survival of deer in the area.
You can see that corn can provide many benefits to a deer herd. You may still be thinking that it will make a great food plot crop for your property. However, it is unwise to make a decision without knowing the whole story.
STANDING CORN DRAWBACKS
While corn is a great source of carbohydrates, it carries very little in the way of protein. Only 7 to 10 percent of corn grain is protein. Protein is needed for does to produce quality milk for fawns. It is also vital for bucks to grow antlers. Other food plot crops such as soybeans contain as much as 30 percent protein, which may make them a better option.
Corn is also not a warm season food plot crop. It provides no food during the growing season. As the days start to shorten during the fall, the corn kernel starts to harden and develop a dent. At this point, the corn finally enters a stage where deer find it palatable.
Another factor to consider is that it’s very hard to get corn to a point where it becomes palatable to deer. Corn requires greater soil fertility and if this type of soil is not available, heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer are required. Corn is a heavy user of nitrogen and can’t be planted in the same area year after year. This annual application of nitrogen fertilizer can be very costly. Spend your money on a new food plot or do a prescribed burn. You can rotate food plots to keep your corn growing well.
Corn isn’t very drought tolerant and does best in areas with irrigation or sufficient rainfall. I doubt that you irrigate your food plots and Mother Nature isn’t predictable in terms of rainfall. Ther’s another problem. If you get adequate rainfall, it leads to the rapid growth of weeds. Corn doesn’t compete well with these fast growing weeds. Emergent herbicide treatments are available, as well as Roundup Ready corn, but these are expensive. Add to the cost of herbicide treatment and Roundup Ready corn, the price of a fertilizer application and the price to plant a food plot in corn rises quickly. Planting corn in larger plots ensures that the deer have adequate food throughout season. However, a large plot means a large bill.
Standing corn food plots provide cover and food all in one location, and that’s great. Except the fact that it limits how much a deer has to travel during daylight hours. If a buck doesn’t have to leave the corn field, it makes it nearly impossible for a hunter to harvest that buck. Large acres of standing corn can hold many deer. If all the deer are in the standing corn, it makes your tree stands that are located in adjacent woodlots ineffective. Your only option is to hunt near the standing corn. Hunting near your food plot of standing corn is risky because the chance of spooking all the deer in the field is greatly increased.
Also mentioned earlier is the fact that corn may be the only quality cover available in some areas. If you harvest or cash rent your corn food plots you may be leaving your deer herd out to dry. Harvested corn leaves little cover for deer. This forces them to move to areas with better cover. This can mean that deer may completely move off your property. That is definitely not what you want to happen.
STANDING CORN ALTERNATIVES
A standing corn food plot has many drawbacks, but it also has many positives. These positives can outweigh the negatives in some situations, but for others an alternative crop will be a better option. What can you do as a property owner if you still want the benefits that corn can provide?
First, there are many alternative food plot crops that work just as well as corn at providing quality nutrition. Clover is a great early season food plot crop that provides deer food during the summer months. It can have crude protein levels as high as 25 percent. Brassicas are also a good choice for property owners because they are full of starch. This starch turns to sugar in cold temperatures. Deer will forage on the tops of brassicas during the early season, then switch to the bulbs during the late season. By planting half of your standing corn food plot in clover and half in brassicas or a brassica blend, you can provide quality nutrition for your deer herd year round.
If you still want corn, there are a few things you should consider. First, rotate your corn plantings with another crop, specifically a legume, because corn is such a heavy user of nitrogen. Planting soybeans two year to every one year of corn is a good rule of thumb. The soybeans take nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that is usable by other plants. By planting soybeans for two consecutive years you allow the soil to build up nitrogen. The corn can use this nitrogen in future years. Even by rotating corn with a legume, you will likely not be providing the corn plant with enough nitrogen and a fertilizer application will still be necessary.
Corn is king, and for many reasons it should be. There are many factors that you should consider before deciding if it’s the right food plot crop for your property. Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Can you afford the high price of fertilizer to see the benefits of the high carbohydrates that corn can provide? In the end, it all depends on your specific property and your management goals. It is up to you if you want to create your own little piece of Iowa on your land.
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