Farmer Interviews About Crane Management

April 11, 2019

MSU Extension hosted a webinar in March, 2019 to inform crop producers about wildlife species that can impact field crop production and options for control.  In this video, farmers who have had experience with sandhill crane damage and management strategies share what they have learned using non-lethal deterrents and depredation permits.

Video Transcript

 - [Eric] So Ron and Rich, I'll let you take it away. - [Ron] All right, Eric, I'm gonna-- This is Ron, I'm gonna start first and Rich can jump in. Just to touch on the deer real quick, what you probably have, if it's like what Matt talked about earlier is that we're working with two different inbreds out there. And, a lot of times I like just the male inbred. I mean, they go in and take that out, that portion of the field that is no longer viable. There will be no seed produced. On the flip-side is they take the seed male out. And the problem with seed-corn, and it's whether it's deer of sandhill cranes, these are true compete contracts. All the companies around here. So growers are competing against each other with like variety. So it might, I know just a year or two ago Rich had a field that was just a bushel better than the neighbor and he was rewarded handsomely because of our, under compete contract with the bonuses and stuff. So, you know, we're only looking at maybe 60, 70 bushel average and you take one bushel off that, it can be a real financial detriment to the grower. As far as the sandhill cranes, it's hard to say. Usually where we see 'em is in sandy areas or gravel mounds and stuff, and they can just basically, a few years ago we had a field over towards Bronson, Coldwater, actually. The sandhill crane destroyed roughly 15 to 20 acres. There was, you know, just a plant here and there. So, they're paid on the whole field. Would you cut the whole field? So if there's no production out of that area, that drags the yield for the rest of the field down. And when you come to a compete contract, you know, they aren't going to get much and their competitors are gonna get a lot more. So, and I know the deer damage and sandhill crane damage are bad for all farmers. But to me, especially in seed corn, it's so important when we're talking about light bushels to start with, and then on a compete contract. That's how these guys survive. Rich? - [Rich] I'm Rich Baker, I farm just north of Sturgis in Saint Joe County; primarily seed corn and also potatoes. I have noticed just over the past four years, the growing population of sandhill crane, in our area. I've had a depredation permit now for two years based on some damage. And I can go over kind of some of the goofy deterrent stuff we've tried. I actually tied my dog out in the middle of the field at night and during the day, chased them off with a four-wheeler, bought radios that were battery powered. We'd put 'em in plastic bags and place them around the area. We tried all this stuff, essentially, before we went to the depredation permit. The field I'm talking about in specifically is one that I had to replant three times because of total destruction. I mean essentially there was nothing left there to harvest, or that even came up. And, so I don't know if you're gonna kinda go into the side of what the crane is after, but the crane is after the seedling, which is planted under the ground. And that's where the corn is so susceptible for a long period of time, basically from the day you put that seed in the ground and it starts to germinate a little bit, and then they will reach in the ground and pull that parent rootstalk outta there, and that seed, up until essentially six, seven, maybe even a little bit higher than that, leaf to corn. So you're looking at, say you can start planting April 20th, to I'd say first, second week in June pretty easily, but that corn is so susceptible to crane damage. And Eric's got a couple pictures there. That's what you'll notice, is simply a hole right beside or right above where that seed was supposed to be. And, sorry Eric, I didn't get my pictures uploaded to you, but the one picture had the whole row of the corn plants, which were tipped over laying on top of the ground, and a hole right where they had, a sandhill crane had just walked right down the row and plucked all those corn plants right out of the ground just after that, after that seed. This is what it kinda looks like, one of these birds, and they typically, what they do is they'll, they're mates for life, so they'll find two, they'll meet up with each other, and then they find a habitat to have their offspring. And essentially what happens is then that offspring comes back to that same place every year, being a migratory bird. I guess that's kind of, you got any questions for me other than that, Eric, or. - [Eric] So Rich why don't you talk a little bit about, I might have actually, some pictures from that field two years ago, that we were in. Talk a little bit about the possibility for replants, and I know you did try replanting in that situation, and has that been successful? - [Ron] Hey Eric, this is Ron again. And I'm the manager of Remington Seeds down here. And we can't really replant a seed field, portion of a seed field. It's based on pollination so part of the seed field is fine, if the rest of it gets destroyed there's nothing we can do about it. - [Rich] Yeah, to kind of back that up, I mean all this is, we're planting on a time, time-critical, trying to breed that male and female plant together and so to have one part, or a little part of the field to go in and destroy and try to replant, it doesn't work in seed corn, at all. So basically you can take that, the maker right out of production as soon as they're that far destroyed. Once a crane has demolished, I'd say, even 20% of the population, allows for everything else to come and your weed pressure goes up. And then what you also end up with is, the one plant that does survive, ends up with one good ear on it. But those kernels usually don't come across a sorting table and they show up at the seed corn plant as like a rogue. - [Ron] Eric, also, or Rich should go over this. If we've got isolation, say we've got isolation around the outside, and those sandhill cranes destroy that isolation, especially if it's certified, that field could be declared no good to us. - [Rich] Yeah. And then kind of backing up to uh, if you were in a commercial sided thing, that field there, for instance, that, actually took you to, that was just a little field of commercial corn. But, replanted there three times. Essentially, the day I called for the depredation permit, I counted 55 sandhill cranes out there just walkin' right down the row pluckin' one seed right after the other. I had chased them off numerous times before; I was at end wits, basically, there at what to do to keep them out of the area, so. - [Eric] Yeah, you were mentioning that they got used to the sound of your truck door opening, and they're smart birds. - [Rich] Yeah they would, well they got to the point where all they had to do was hear my truck comin' down the road and they'd all start to move to the back of the field. But you could see 'em from a half mile away or so, they're all out in the middle, and (chuckles) and so they're a pretty smart animal. They know what's, they know what's goin' on, they figured out where to be safe and where not to be. - [Eric] So Ron and Rich, do either of you have any experience with any of the deterrents? I know Rich, you talked a little bit about some of the things that you had tried. What about the seed treatments, or any of that? - [Ron] Well we've tried Avipel a couple years. We didn't try anything last year. And it did have some effect. Whether it's long lasting or not, and they still destroy some of the seed, but, bottom line is it's still better than nothing. But, to me, something that (audio cuts out) this wildlife, that just, you know, control with chemicals and whatever else is okay, but something's gotta be done for these guys and companies like mine, a livelihood. I think there are just too many animals. Avipel, we'll continue to use that, but my way of thinkin' somethin' else gotta be done. - [Rich] We've tried it. It's like an ipecac, it kind of makes the bird puke, essentially. Puttin' it on the seed treatment, puttin' it in the planter, and then you kind of mix it on to the seed. It also makes whoever's handling that pretty sick too. So it's uh, the fellow that I know that did use it, he ended up sicker than probably the bird did after it ate one of those seeds, so (chuckles) there's some catch-22 to some of those, as far as safety goes I guess, for the applicator and the planter herself. - [Eric] Let's just say we move into spring and this just ends up being one of those years where you do have a lot of pressure from the cranes. What is your strategy for moving forward? - [Rich] Well, I should've taken a picture this morning, Eric, of the field just east of my house. 'Cause there was probably 35, 40 birds already out there. We know there's gonna be a problem. I did renew my depredation permit, so I have that tool to use. And I will try using some of those not lethal tactics to start with. But what I did find last year was to use the depredation permit. My permit was a kinda shoot and leave the carcass lay. Or even put it up on a stick, the guy suggested. Within a couple days the coyotes had the crane gone, no matter what, but it did deter the other animals from coming back for, I'd say at least a week, week and a half just by basically eliminating one of them out of there. So there is some use; I'm not saying you gotta eliminate 'em all, but, they've just kind of come in and found this nice little sandy loam area with quite a bit of vegetation in lower areas and grassy pockets that's kind of where they come out of, I guess, is the worst part of it. - [Ron] And Eric, I wish I'd have thought of this before. We've got plants all across the midwest and I might try to talk with them, like Minnesota, Nebraska, just to see, 'cause I'm sure they have the same issue. Maybe not quite as bad, but to see what they do or what the state will allow also.