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Officials address farmers’ frustrations with deer damaging crops

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Altura farmer Bob Marg estimates that over the past three years, he's lost about $3,800 to deer eating his crops.

He's not the only one.

In recent years, farmers across southeast Minnesota have seen a rise in deer damage and have become increasingly frustrated with what they say is an inability to prevent it, said state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is now involved, and working with both farmers and politicians. It recently hired Clint Luedtke as an assistant landowner specialist to work specifically on deer damage issue in six southeast Minnesota counties in Southeast Minnesota.

Officials met with farmers Thursday night at Southeast Technical College, where they presented information on ways farmers can reduce deer damage. Drazkowski and state Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, also attended.

The DNR offers cost-share programs for fencing around forage or problem areas, and recently increased the money offered to $3,000, up from $750, said Nick Reindl, a DNR wildlife depredation coordinator. The DNR can also provide a special shooting permit for farmers.

In Minnesota, the DNR primarily works to reduce deer damage by using hunters, and can connect hunters with farmers to control deer population on individual properties.

"Hunting is really the only good tool we have," said assistant area wildlife manager Mike Tenney. "It's the most effective and cheapest deer pesticide."

After Thursday's presentation, DNR officials fielded questions, comments, and criticisms from the 50 or so attendees.

"Why don't you give licenses out to the farmers?" Marg asked during the workshop. "You talk about putting up fences. Let the farmers hunt."

Landowners can qualify for a free antlerless deer license if they farm more than 80 acres in areas where the limit is more than one deer, but changes in designations in local management areas have disqualified some farms.

Changing the regulations so landowners would qualify for a free license again "will be a done deal" Drazkowski said.

"I think we will be able to come together on a solution," Miller said. "Farming and agriculture is a very important part of the local economy. The farmers brought up some great ideas."

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