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Produce-munching deer mean less lettuce for sale

Dec 06 2012

Farm stalls on the Saanich Peninsula will have a smaller variety of veggies to offer next year because farmers cannot afford to keep growing crops for deer, says Larry Sluggett, South Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association vice-president.

Sluggett plans to grow fewer types of vegetables while other farmers are simply giving up on some of their fields.

"We have lost 90 per cent of our head, leaf and romaine lettuce for the last three years and all our green and yellow beans, so we're going to be discontinuing those products because we are just losing money," Sluggett said.

The problem has been getting worse for the last three years and there are so many deer around that shooting the odd one, permitted under provincial legislation, makes no difference, the 63-year-old said.

"When I was a youngster I only once saw a deer on the farm and my dad shot it," Sluggett said.

"They need to bring in professional hunters and do it in a scientific way. They need to determine what the population level should be and reduce it to that number," he said.

It is ironic that many of those who do not want the deer culled are many of the same people advocating for a local food supply, Sluggett said.

Terry Michell, who farms about 200 hectares, said his saving grace is that his fields are all in the same area of Central Saanich.

That means employees in quads and trucks drive around the property constantly chasing out the deer, he said, noting that some crops are still destroyed.

"We feel we lost $30,000 to $50,000 last year because of deer eating the carrots and lettuce and apples," he said.

"We had 27 deer in the carrot patch one night and we had to chase them out."

Rob Galey, who is pulling back his farming operation to just the Blenkinsop Valley because of losses from deer and geese, is going to try dividing his fields into plots of under one hectare and surrounding each section with fences and gates.

"It's going to be just like a prison and it's going to cost me over $50,000, which I'm going to borrow from the bank," Galey said. "But once they're in a 40-acre field you can't get them out."

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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