Mule deer wheat 1

Kahlotus, Wash., wheat farmer Brian Cochrane holds up a photo of damage to his wheat fields caused by mule deer while attending the Lind Field Day at Washington State University’s dryland research station June 13 in Lind, Wash.

A Washington wheat farmer goes before the state Department of Fish and Wildlife this week to ask for more money to pay for wildlife damage to his crop.

A herd of more than 250 migrating mule deer caused roughly $32,000 in damage for the 2018 crop, said Brian Cochrane, a Kahlotus, Wash., farmer and board member on the Washington Grain Commission.

The cost includes labor, reseeding and weed control, Cochrane said.

Cochrane said he received roughly $26,500 for mule deer damage to the 2017 crop from the state, for the same herd on a smaller field.

The state estimates the deer cost Cochrane roughly $4,500 in damage.

“WDFW staff have been, and continue to, work with Mr. Cochrane to mitigate wildlife damages,” said wildlife conflict program specialist Ralf Schreiner. “The deer/elk damage that occurred to Mr. Cochrane’s crop was assessed by a third party professional crop adjuster. The amount determined by the assessment was offered and subsequently disputed by Mr. Cochrane.”

Cochrane and the department have a hearing June 20 in Olympia.

Under state law, the maximum payment for a claim is $10,000, unless the outcome of an appeal filed by the producer determines higher payment.

The herd winds up on a 300-acre to 400-acre field above the Snake River, Cochrane said.

“It’s pretty much the last wheat field south, and the rest is CRP, so it’s a very good wintering, shelter and water source,” Cochrane said.

The deer feast on Cochrane’s winter wheat from the second week of October through the second week of February, he said. Early in the plant’s development, they pull them out of the ground, like carrots, or later graze on it as the brace root develops, he said.

“People graze cattle on wheat all the time,” he said. “The difference is you’re getting economic value from the cattle grazing on your wheat. Whereas the state of Washington deer are getting the nutritional value.”

That includes the value of weed control and nitrogen, he said.

Cochrane said damage has gotten 10 to 15% worse each year for a decade.

“People don’t realize that they may be losing 2 to 3 bushels per acre,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but over the long run, that adds up.”

As a result of the damage, it was the only field where Cochrane had to use post-harvest weed control.

Cochrane sees a disparity between state funding for wolf management compared to damage caused by deer and elk.

The department’s tips to avoid deer conflicts include cattle fences and scare tactics.

Cochrane said the department has various hunting programs. Landowners receive five depredation tags to kill five does. It’s not enough, he said.

“We love the deer, I would gladly feed the deer, if I was compensated for it,” he said. “I want to be compensated for my economic loss of that wheat that’s being fed to the state of Washington’s animals.”

Recommended for you