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Munchin’ Around The Christmas Tree

All you out there with home gardens know what a burden it is to keep those pesky deer at bay. The sprinkling of hair clippings or hanging bars of soap (or whatever the fix du jour may be) is nothing compared to the problem facing farmers who have hundreds of acres to protect.

NC State extension specialists have been working with N.C. Christmas tree farmers over the years to help combat any number of pests that could put a damper on their production – including deer.

NC State researchers are working hard to keep deer from putting a damper on Christmas for Fraser Fir growers.

They are currently exploring the use of  inexpensive, inedible food byproducts – such as dried blood and egg powder – typically sold in bulk to the pet-food industry to be used for flavoring. These byproducts cost 85 to 90 percent less than their commercial deer-repellent counterparts, and are found to be just as effective. Using these repellents – which can be purchased locally in bulk – may provide tree farmers an early Christmas present.

“We initially looked into the effectiveness and feasibility of using different fencing and commercial repellents to protect trees and crops from deer. Both are successful, but are extremely expensive,” extension specialist Jeff Owen explains. “When you take the commercial deer repellent that you find at your local hardware store and use it on a farmwide basis, you see growers  budgeting as much for deer repellents as most of their other pesticides.”  Commercial deer repellents are so costly that Christmas tree growers use them at half-strength to be able to afford using them at all.

According to Owen, commercial deer repellents cost at least $18 per pound, while the dried blood or egg powder, which can be bought in bulk from agriculture suppliers, runs less than $2 per pound. When you consider that growers  use 10 pounds per acre and make two or three applications over the fall and winter, the savings are significant.

But before you home-gardeners run out to place your order for some rancid egg powder, Owen says that there is a simpler solution. Buying the bulk ingredients – which are sold in 50-pound bags or even 2,000-pound pallets – have to be mixed into a solution to be sprayed. And I’m  not sure about you, but messing with rotten egg powder isn’t my idea of a fun weekend activity. So while the cost savings makes a huge difference to those with lots of land to cover, for us small-scale green thumbs, the commercial deer repellent sold in big box stores works just as well – provided you rotate repellents from time-to-time.