A strange spring could force landowners to try new food plot strategies

Spring 2022 has been lousy for sure.

Mud, cold winds and lack of sunshine all set us back weeks with projects in the field. For people who like to plant food patches on their properties, years like this can be especially tough to establish high-quality food and cover for the creatures we love to see and hunt. Luckily, there are several wet weather contingency plans you can take advantage of if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Traditional grain maize and sorghum plots need a fairly long growing season to peak production for food and cover. Now that we are weeks away from June with little to no harvest in the ground, it may be time to find better alternatives to take advantage of the growing days we have left.

Plant crops with shorter maturity windows

Selection of food plot species with a shorter maturity window in an option. Millets, oilseed sunflowers, buckwheat, and crucifers such as turnips and radishes can produce viable food sources in a very short time. Many of these species can be planted in the first week of July and still produce viable seed or green browse for deer and pheasants before fall.

There is no doubt that many of these crop varieties struggle to withstand winter snow, but they still provide valuable late fall and early winter habitat if well established. Many of these species, due to their small seed size, can also be easily planted with a broadcast seeder for those with limited equipment.

Consider perennial food plots

Consider planting a perennial food patch and stop struggling with wet soil. Many native flowering species can provide quality winter food and shelter while providing nesting and brood-rearing habitat for pheasants. Species like Maximillian sunflower, evening primrose, Lewis flax, sweet clover and many more can provide heavy structure and a seed buffet for a variety of wildlife species. Some of these plots can be maintained for several years with a single planting operation.

To give up

Sometimes the weather conditions are just too much to handle to get a quality crop planted. Fortunately, Mother Nature usually finds a way to revegetate old fields with species such as kochia, lamb’s quarters and foxtail. All of these species are known to naturally revegetate abandoned areas and have extremely high food value for game birds.

Although fallowing a field can provide excellent food and shelter for wildlife, it is very important to be mindful of neighbors and adjacent land when traveling this route. If your plot decides to revegetate with noxious weeds such as thistle or wormwood, you will need to mow or spray sp to avoid creating a perennial weed problem.

As this wacky spring continues to throw curve balls at us, start considering alternative options for your acres of traditional food plots, and feel free to contact your local private land habitat biologist for other options. .

Ben Lardy is a private land habitat biologist with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks.