Food Plotting by the Numbers
Before I start talking about food plots, I want everyone to understand that no food plot, no matter what the blend, can supply everything a deer needs in terms of their nutrition, not even The Perfect 10. That is why no matter how perfect your food plots are, supplementing the diet using mineral sites or protein feed will help improve herd health.
I am in the planning stage for a couple new food plots, and I am getting to the point where I am tired of planting food plots using the same old, run-down equipment. This year I have calculated some numbers which I think you can appreciate, if you are wanting to know rental rates on smaller tractors and implements, versus owning the equipment. First off, if you own your own land, you can probably afford a tractor. Tractors come in all shapes and sizes, but for the avid food plot planter, something in the 20-35 hp range should be sufficient. I have looked at a lot of different options on the market and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of the price a dealer tells you, a tractor is worth what someone will pay for it. Tractorhouse.com is a great site to search for tractors for sale, but farm retirement auctions are also a great place to find a lot of good machinery at a reasonable price. Getting to know the tractor market in your area is a valuable tool before you decide when/if you should buy one.
This article will focus on those of us that do not own enough land to justify buying a tractor (yet). Just because you don’t own equipment does not mean you need to skimp on your food plot prep. There are many places that rent equipment that you can use for food plotting. Here is a great video of Pro Staffer Cody Sirek prepping his food plot using equipment he doesn’t own. Around my hunting ground in SE Minnesota, most rental places have small walk behind tillers for garden work. If you have a small secluded area that you cannot get a tractor to, this might be your only option unless you want to wear your arms out using a rake, making what I refer to as a “poor man’s plot.”
For ¼ to 1-acre sized food plots it is very economical to rent a riding tractor, but most rental outfits only have landscaping tools available such as skid steers and back-hoes. My local rental shop actually had a 25 hp riding Kubota with a 36” garden tiller attachment for $200 per day.
No trailer included in this price, but you could rent their trailer for $50/day. Luckily, I have an uncle with a car trailer I could borrow. Basically, I could spend 2 days tilling food plots all day and be out $400. The problem is that with only a 36” tiller it would take me all day to do what I want done. Just for fun, I priced out what that same tractor would cost if I were to buy it new with a 48” tiller, and the amount was $27,400. My monthly payment would have been over $400 (60-month financing), so paying $400 for 2 long days of tough tractor labor doesn’t sound so bad. If I only needed 2 long days of food plot tilling each year, it would take me 47 years to justify buying a new tractor versus renting (assuming I use a 4-wheeler for spraying plots). I would certainly use a tractor for other things such as gardening and snow removal, but I’m focusing on food plot tillage for this article. Granted, the rental rate will increase over time, so too will the value decrease on a tractor over time, so both would need to be recalculated as prices fluctuate.
There are also companies that you can hire to do the food plot prep work, and even planting. I called around to a few different companies and food plot installation ranged from $400/acre (Uninsured Bubba with a tractor) to $1,600/per acre (Professional install included soil testing, fertilizer amendments, and consulting/design on where food plot should be placed). The professional also had access to a no till drill which is great for reducing soil erosion as well as conserving soil moisture. Some charged by the hour and charged mileage for getting equipment to where the work needed to be done. Others charged for time and materials, meaning you pay for the labor around $75/hr and pay for the seed, fertilizer, or whatever materials are needed to have a successful food plot. Some would even travel to my location and use local rented equipment to do the job, and charge $100/hr labor, plus a consulting fee ($500).
Another option is to find someone that trusts you with their equipment. Why rent a tractor 50 miles away from your property when the neighbor is willing to let you use their tractor? Even massive commercial farmers sometimes have a smaller “yard tractor” they use for grading their driveway or for snow removal. You could also talk to some of the local farmers and see if they are willing to do the tillage work and pay them for their service. I define tillage as any sort of equipment that makes the field look like dirt, so I’m lumping all tillers, discs, harrows, and chisel plow type machinery into the word “tillage.” One of my plots is adjacent to a farmers field and if I need tillage work, I pay him $50 just to make a few passes with his massive machinery. Basically, I’m just paying him for the inconvenience of having to make a couple extra turns. This will not work in the smaller kill plots located inside of the timber though.
Just like with anything in life, you get what you pay for, and doing it yourself is always cheaper. It is also the only way to be certain the food plot is done to your standards. Having the most beautiful, lush green food plot in the world doesn’t mean you are going to shoot the biggest buck in the neighborhood, unless you do the other things that tip the odds in your favor, such as minimize alerting deer of your entry/exit, keep scent away from the deer in the field, waiting until weather conditions are optimal and passing shots on smaller bucks. I’ll save the fine details of hunting food plots for another article. Feel free to share your food plotting and habitat management equipment on Ani-Logics Outdoors social media pages. Just like fingerprints and snowflakes, no two food plots are the same and you should use your own judgement as to what equipment works best for you. Happy farming everyone!