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Turkeys are a Farmer's Friend

NEW YORK - Wild turkeys are often blamed for crop damage, but evidence shows that wild turkeys are innocent of most charges.

"The reason wild turkeys get blamed for crop damage is because farmers see them in the fields during the day," said Doug Little, National Wild Turkey Federation regional biologist for New York. "However, research shows that most damage occurs at night when turkeys are roosting."

Alfalfa snout beetle
Alfalfa snout beetle - Photo courtesy of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program

In a recent article, Keith Waldron, New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, suggests turkeys help farmers monitor fields for bug infestations. The article refers to Extension Educator Mike Stanyard discovering alfalfa snout beetles in the crop and stomach contents of wild turkeys taken near an alfalfa field. Alfalfa snout beetles are found only in Europe and portions of nine counties in northern New York and southern Ontario.

"The alfalfa snout beetle is a leading cause for alfalfa to go out of production in New York," Waldron said. "Turkeys were in the right place at the right time feeding on the beetles and helped us figure out why alfalfa wasn't doing very well in the area."

Turkeys often feed on insects in or near crop fields during the summer and autumn. In fact, insects are the biggest source of protein for turkey poults. However, since turkeys are active during the day many farmers believe they are feeding on agricultural crops rather than insects even though research shows differently.

Earlier studies conducted in Ohio and Wisconsin by wildlife agency biologists show turkeys cause minimal crop damage. Over a four-year period, Ohio researchers found only three of 26 damage incidents involved wild turkeys even though turkeys were spotted near every field.

In Wisconsin, turkeys were blamed in 28 crop damage incidents, but investigators confirmed turkeys involved in only five of these incidents.

According to Paul Curtis, Wildlife Damage Management Program Coordinator for Cornell University, wild turkeys cause little economic damage.

"It's well documented that turkeys primarily feed on insects in agriculture fields," Curtis said.

For more information about the NWTF, call 1-800-THE-NWTF


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