Feral hogs eating away at farm profits
Feral hogs may be prime prey for hunters, but to Georgia farmers they’re the ultimate predator. They destroy farmland, eat away at a farmer’s crops and drastically reduce potential profits.
Jay Porter, the University of Georgia Extension agent in Dooly County, says feral hogs cause about $1 million in agricultural loss each year. A 2011 survey conducted by UGA wildlife specialist Mike Mengak, revealed that more than $84 million was lost in the 41 counties that comprise the 41 counties in southwest Georgia.
Along with the major yield losses, feral hogs also leave aggravating messes for farmers to clean up. Porter said hogs destroy fields to the point where two or three passes are required with a tractor just to smooth the field so replanting can occur.
“You’re looking at equipment costs, fuel costs and labor costs on top of your crop losses,” Porter said.
Billy Sanders, a longtime Dooly County farmer, believes feral hogs are becoming increasingly problematic because of the excess rainfall the state has received over the past year. Feral hogs migrate close to water sources, such as Sandy Mount Creek in Vienna, which is just a couple of hundred yards from Sanders’ peanut field. Feral hogs destroyed 24 straight rows of Sanders’ crop last week.
Four or five years ago, Sanders’ 60-acre peanut field was destroyed to the tune of $30,000. The devastation came after the peanuts sat in the field for three weeks because of excessive rainfall. As Sanders notes, what was initially a harvest operation quickly became a salvage operation. What’s the issue? Feral hogs are a major problem in large part because of their reproductive capacities. Charlie Killmaster, a deer and feral hog biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, says unlike deer, which breed in the fall and have their young in the spring, feral hogs breed when they’re ready and don’t stop. The result is a reproductive rate that is “just astronomical,” he said.
The high populations are made worse by the animal’s unpredictability. They feed on peanut, cotton, wheat and other grain crops.
Feral hogs particularly like nutgrass growing in cotton fields. Sanders has seen hogs dig a hole “halfknee deep” to get one small nut off a nutgrass plant. This makes the area unharvestable.
Sanders and his family are in the process of harvesting wheat in spite of the fact that many fields are severely hog damaged. He won’t plant wheat again until the feral hog population is reduced.
Feral hogs can also harm the environment. Killmaster said hogs root up nests of sea turtles, an endangered species. They also contribute to soil disturbance and interfere with tree regeneration. At times, pine trees have had to be replanted two or three times because hogs eat pine seedlings, he said.
The peak times for hog damage are during planting and harvest seasons. During those times of year, it’s not uncommon for Dooly County Extension to receive a couple of calls a week about feral pigs damaging fields.
Cracking down on the problem
What can be done about a pest that reproduces rapidly and is difficult to target? One way is to crack down on the illegal transportation of hogs.
Wild hogs are sometimes caught and transported to another location for hunting, which is illegal if done in an unfenced area. Transporting hogs can range from a pig in a dog box in the back of a truck to scores of swine in a 35-foot livestock trailer.