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Agronomic Services — News Release

FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2012

Contact: J. Kent Messick, Field Services Section chief
NCDA&CS Agronomic Division
(919) 733-2655

Regional agronomists give guidance on wildlife food plots

NCDA&CS regional agronomist David Dycus shows Mack Buie
how to collect and submit a soil sample
to obtain fertilizer recommendations for a wildlife food plot.
NCDA+CS regional agronomist David Dycus shows Mack Buie how to collect and submit a soil sample to obtain fertilizer recommendations for a wildlife food plot.

TROY—Mack Buie loves nature and wildlife, and hopes to instill that love in his children and grandchildren as well. About three years ago, he purchased 150 acres in Montgomery County. The land had a good mix of forested and open areas, and Buie’s plan was to plant food plots to attract animals.

As a semi-retired businessman with no farming experience, Buie wasn’t sure how to go about establishing wildlife food plots. When a friend mentioned that he had been able to get advice from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Buie soon found himself in contact with regional agronomist David Dycus.

Dycus is not only an expert in crop fertilization and production; he’s also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He enjoys sharing his knowledge about how to establish and maintain wildlife food plots. Dycus scheduled a site visit to discuss Buie’s plans for the property.

Buie’s property had four to five areas of open fields that seemed particularly good locations for food plots. There were also persimmon trees that could provide additional food. Even though many acres were already wooded, Buie envisioned planting longleaf pines so that, eventually, sale of timber and pine straw could offset some of the costs associated with the development of his natural area.

Because Buie’s property is large and diverse, Dycus prescribed a thorough program of soil sampling. “Some acres were cleared; others were wooded and natural,” Dycus said. “We needed to assess soil pH and fertility for the potential food plot sites first.”

Dycus talked to Buie about the strategy involved in collecting good, representative soil samples. All soils cores that go into a single sample must be alike; for example, they should be taken from areas with similar vegetation, soil color, topography and management history. Each distinctly different area should have its own soil sample.

“We pulled samples for each of the food plot areas that day,” Buie said. “When I got the report, I called David again. I didn’t understand it. I asked him if I was going to have to learn about calcium and potassium and all that mess. He said, ‘Not as long as I’m here.’”

Dycus gave Buie a short course in how to read a soil test report and what to look for. In general, sites that have not recently been in agricultural production are likely to have low pH and low phosphorus levels. Dycus directed Buie to look at his soil report and take note of the values for soil pH and phosphorus index (P-I) first. These would be especially important for Buie since little was known about the historical use of his land.

Fortunately, the soil report indicated high levels of phosphorus. These open areas had probably been planted with tobacco at one time and fertilized regularly. Once applied, phosphorus tends to accumulate in the soil and does not move readily. P-I values of 50 or more reflect a sufficient level of the nutrient, and all of Buie’s P-I values were well above 50. That finding was fortunate because phosphorus is the most expensive fertilizer nutrient. You don’t want to apply it if you don’t need to.

Buie and Dycus discussed which crops to grow in the food plots. They decided he should start with oats instead of clover. Oats grow well on sandy land and even in the woods. They are a resilient crop. Even when wildlife browse them heavily, they bounce right back. Kale was also suggested as a good option. The deer love it, and it is inexpensive and easy to grow.

“Often, it is impossible to grow clover the first year a food plot is established,” Dycus said. “The soil pH has to be correctly adjusted. Clover is expensive so it’s better to hold off planting it until after you’ve put out lime, let it work, and confirmed that it has done its job.”

After successfully planting oats and kale last fall, Buie decided to clear some of the wooded areas for future food plots. Based on soil report recommendations, he went ahead and applied phosphorus and two tons of agricultural lime per acre in December. If this summer’s soil test results show that the soil pH has stabilized around 6.0, then he plans to go ahead and plant some of these areas in clover in September.

“I’ve encouraged Buie to collect soil samples annually,” Dycus said. “Summer is the best time for him since most of his food plots are annual, cool-season crops. Also, the soil lab is not as busy in the summer, so turnaround time is relatively quick.”

Said Buie: “People who don’t take advantage of soil sampling are wasting their money, in my opinion. Although I have to admit that, in the beginning, I nicknamed Dycus ‘Dollar David’ because every time I’d see him, I’d end up spending $300 or $400. Then I realized that I was actually saving money. Without his help, I’d probably have been spending $600 or $700.”

Buie is now officially a fan of soil sampling. He and his wife use it for more than fertilizing wildlife food plots. They submit samples and follow the recommendations for their home landscaping and vegetable garden, too.

“When I first started, I didn’t even know what a soil sample was,” Buie said. “Now I’m hooked. I have more than 20 acres of food plots . . . and without soil sampling, I’d have no idea what they need. I’ve seen quail, deer, coons, rabbits, coyotes and foxes. Sometimes they’re eating the cucumbers and watermelons in my own garden.”

As Buie continues to implement plans for his property, he consults with Dycus via email, contacting him about three or four times a year. These same services — soil testing and consultation with a regional agronomist — are available free of charge to all North Carolina residents. NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division field staff can make on-site visits and help solve nutrient-related problems. Contact information is available online at


Last Update September 11, 2012


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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