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    Sunday, September 25, 2022

    First a bear, now deer: Wildlife continues to feast on popular East Lyme corn

    Tom Scott, of Scott’s Yankee Farmer in East Lyme, shows Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2022, what happens to an ear of corn when deer eat the tassels off a corn stalk which prevents the pollination of all the kernels. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Tom Scott, of Scott’s Yankee Farmer, shows how deer have eaten the tassels of corn stalks, on left, that prevents the pollination of all the kernels. On the right is corn stalk with a tassel that has not been eaten by deeer. Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    East Lyme ― A year after a bear destroyed a local farm’s first corn harvest of the season, hungry and thirsty deer are now wreaking havoc on their fields.

    Karen Scott, co-owner of Scott’s Yankee Farmer on Boston Post Road with her husband and son, said the yield from roughly nine acres of farmland maintained at a separate site off Chesterfield Road was decimated by the animals earlier this month.

    As forests dry up due to the ongoing drought, wildlife is searching for what one agricultural expert called “green, juicy food” on irrigated farmland.

    The deer, described by Scott as very persistent, were sneaking under fencing that had previously held up against wildlife. They proceeded to eat the top of the stalks, digesting the flowery tassels necessary for pollination.

    That means there’s not enough pollen to travel down the silk into each individual kernel, according to Scott. The result is an uneven and scant distribution of pollinated kernels on the three varieties grown at the farm: butter and sugar, yellow and white.

    “None of it was sellable,” she said.

    The Scotts got a decent yield out of their initial crop in July after they germinated the plants in the greenhouse and then transplanted them to a field near their store, she recounted. But the farm has had to buy corn from a Hartford-area supplier since Aug. 6.

    “So we’re spending over $300 a day to buy corn that is not as good as ours,” Scott said.

    Meanwhile, her husband, Tom Scott, reinforced the 8-foot-tall plastic fencing by pinning the bottom to the ground so deer can’t get underneath. Yet he still was finding them inside the fence.

    While the farm has stronger, box-wire fencing on most of its property, Karen Scott said they use the plastic model on their rented land because they have to take the enclosure down when the season is over.

    “In most cases, it’s always worked,” she said. “This year is a challenge.”

    Shuresh Ghimire, an assistant extension educator and vegetable specialist at the University of Connecticut, said he has visited farms this year to find deer walking through fields in the middle of the afternoon.

    “They have wildlife issues every year, some years more severe than others,” he said of the commercial growers he advises. “And this year, it’s more severe.”

    New London and Windham counties were designated last week as natural disaster areas by the federal government due to the ongoing drought, allowing farmers access to loans.

    The National Weather Service as of Wednesday reported “extreme” drought conditions in the easternmost portion of New London County, with the rest identified as “severe.” The extreme drought designation, applicable to almost 40 percent of the county, signals negative effects including widespread crop loss, financially-strapped farmers and the outbreak of wildlife diseases.

    Ghimire said the drought obviously means there’s not enough water for crops. But there’s also not enough water for bushes, shrubs and trees, which leads to poor vegetation in forests.

    “So in search of food – more green, juicy food – they look out for irrigated farmland and cropland,” he said of the determined deer.

    Fencing is the best line of defense against wildlife, according to Ghimire. He said the structure should be either 8-10 feet tall or electrified.

    He noted the drought could have an effect on deer going forward if their ability to reproduce is impacted or if their young are not able to store enough fat in their bodies to survive the winter.

    “Drought this year is potentially going to impact their population next year,” he said.

    After almost a month of buying other farmers’ corn while waiting for their own fresh supply in East Lyme, Karen Scott said at least one field is back to producing the kind of corn they’re used to. She hopes to be able to start selling again soon.

    “I went home and cooked a couple ears in the microwave and ate them as a snack after dinner, and they were good,” she said. “I suspect we’ll have some of our own this weekend.”

    A normal season would keep corn in stock through Columbus Day weekend. But this year – with a pre-empted yield and continuing drought – is different.

    “If we can go another three or four weeks, it’d make me happy,” Scott said.

    e.regan@theday.com

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