Impacts from white-tailed deer resulted in the loss of $1.3 million over the course of a year, for just a small fraction of New Jersey's farmers, according to new research out of Rutgers.

Wildlife damage has long been a top concern for farmers in the Garden State, and experts suggest there's no reason to believe the problem won't keep worsening.

For the report from Rutgers Cooperative Extension and the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, in-depth case studies of 27 farmers were conducted with farmers from Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Hunterdon, Mercer, Monmouth, Passaic, Somerset and Warren Counties. The farmers collectively owned or rented close to 13,000 acres of land. They were interviewed between October 2020 and March 2021.

The report's authors say the $1.3 million loss is a conservative estimate. Deer damage not only resulted in lost crops and reduced yields; there are several "hidden costs" that need to be counted.

Farmers have had to abandon fields, forego growing preferred crops, deal with soil damage, and use more fertilizers and herbicides, as a result of deer interaction, the report notes.

"They love fruits, they love vegetables, they love grain crops, they love Christmas trees," Ashley Kerr, research associate with New Jersey Farm Bureau, said of white-tailed deer.

In its own research, the Bureau recorded deer density estimates in certain spots of the state at 60 to 239 deer per square mile. Densities of 10 to 15 deer per square mile are considered healthy.

"To get from 200, to 10 to 15, is very difficult," Kerr said. "There really aren't any viable alternatives other than bringing the population numbers back into balance."

Kerr noted farmers can only do so much with fencing. And even if it does the trick for farmers, the move doesn't help population numbers — the deer would then be pushed into neighborhoods and on to roads.

Deer populations have reached problematic numbers in numerous areas of the Garden State, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. DEP said New Jersey has some of the most liberal deer hunting regulations in the nation — the Division of Fish and Wildlife has lengthened hunting seasons and increased bag limits — but lack of of restricted hunter access hinders the state's efforts to make progress.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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