For most food plotters, the challenge starts just by trying to figure out what to plant for the deer. A lot of it depends on your geographic region, soil conditions, deer herd size, available acreage, and budget.
One good option may be soybeans. Here in the Midwest, soybeans fields are abundant. You wouldn’t think planting more soybeans to attract deer to your property would make much sense. But in fact it does as long as it’s the right type of soybean.
A huge advantage of forage beans is they stay green longer than regular ag-beans. They normally will not begin drying out until the first frost. As other bean fields dry out earlier and become less palatable, forage beans will become a deer magnet.
Tons of Food
Forage-type soybeans are a great choice for deer managers. They’re a warm season annual legume that are high in protein (up to 42%) and produce tons of food per acre.
The leaves on a forage soybean plant can be 3 times the size of an agricultural-type soybean that is simply grown for grain production. The plants themselves will get twice as tall as an ag-soybean. Up to 13 tons of food per acre is not uncommon.
From Spring to Spring
If enough forage beans are planted where the deer herd does not wipe them out, it can be a food source from spring planting, all through winter, and into the following spring.
Deer will browse on the leaves all summer long. As it gets colder and the beans dry out, deer will begin feeding on the bean pods until they are gone.
- Lots of tonnage – more bang for your buck (no pun intended)
- High in protein
- Twice the plant height
- 3 times the leaf size
- Long lasting forage
Soybeans like well drained sandy or clay loam type soils. Always perform a soil test for best results. Don’t plant your beans until the soil reaches at least 60 degrees in the spring. We simply just watch the farmers in the area and when they start planting it gives us the green light as well.
As a general rule of thumb, use 300 lbs per acre of 0-20-20 fertilizer. Try to maintain a soil pH between 5.8 and 7.0. Use the appropriate inoculate unless soybeans have been planted in the area before.
Soybeans can be broadcast or drilled. I prefer drilling as it keeps more moisture in the soil. We spray the field with 41% glyphosate (Roundup) just prior to planting. We’ve had good luck drilling 40-50 lbs per acre at 1/2 to 1 inch deep.
Planting Tip – I like blocking off every other shoot on the drill using a piece of duct tape. This spaces the plants better so they aren’t competing so much. By mid-summer the entire field fills in as each plant is able to reach its potential.
To broadcast, first work the soil with a tiller or disc. Broadcast at 60-80 lbs per acre then cultipack to get good seed to soil contact.
Most types of soybeans are Roundup Ready which makes weed control a snap. Again, we watch the farmers in the area to let us know when it’s time to start spraying. Normally, once the beans have reached 8 inches or so it’s safe to spray. We use 2 quarts per acre of Roundup. One time is enough as the beans will canopy and drown out any new weeds trying to come up.
Acres of Beans
Most deer managers recommend planting at least several acres of forage beans depending on your deer population. In areas where agricultural beans are present, you might get away with smaller plots but a herd can wipe out a field of soybeans in no time.
Soybeans are especially vulnerable to browse once they first sprout. If the plant is nipped off below the cotyledon it will not grow back. The cotyledon is the first two leaves on the stem from the ground up. Once the plant grows and begins to branch out it can be browsed off above the cotyledon and it will grow back if left alone.
Keep ‘Em Out
Keeping deer out of the beans until they mature a little can be a difficult task. Repellents or fencing can be an option. Personally, I prefer planting enough acres of beans that early browsing doesn’t destroy them.
Forage soybeans are a great source of protein and can provide food for the deer all year long. At an average cost of $80 per acre, it’s one of the best food plot choices in my opinion, as long as you have the equipment and enough acreage to plant them.