Food Plot Screening
Food plot screening is one of the most misunderstood and underutilized aspects of food plotting. When some think screening they think Egyptian wheat. Egyptian wheat is the most sold forage for screening, but like anything, it has it’s pros and cons. Egyptian wheat does grow tall and has a lower lodging rate than many products, but if one doesn’t plant or fertilize it correct, it also can be ineffective.
I do see people utilizing sorghums for screening. That may or may not be a good choice. Many of the sorghums developed for the market place are designed for forage quality. They contain the brown mid rib trait. That trait contains low lignin levels in the stalk. The end result is that once it matures it needs to be harvested as it will not stand. I am aware of some companies selling bmr or wmr sorghums as screening. They all look nice when green but are a disaster waiting to happen if your using them as screening.
The past several years I’ve been testing various forages for screenings. I have tested 7 different sorghums, as I will not sell a product without testing it’s effectiveness. There are many overlooked annual forages for screening, they include. Millets, grain sorghums, forage sorghums, corn and sunn hemp. For perennials one can use warm season native grasses, trees, Giant reed phragmites, and some cool season grasses.
No matter what you plant, you need to plant it at the correct population. If one plants at too high of rate, you will increase the chance of lodging. If your recommended seeding rate is 12-15 pounds per acre, keep it in that range and don’t plant 20 pounds. The heavy seeding will degrees the stem diameter and reduce the plant lignin levels. You will risk lodging. You also need to fertilize correctly. Many just use a nitrogen fertilizer. You will help your plant grow tall but you also are not helping it stand. You want to use phosphorous to help it get out of the ground. You also need potassium as your forage “regulator.” It is important for stalk strength and plant disease and drought resistance. The taller the species you plant the higher the amount of fertilizer you need. You do want a soil test. I typically use 18-18-18 fertilizer on my standard screenings.
So many people fall in love with the height of a screening but how tall are you? How tall are deer? Yes, I do sell fortress, a screening product that has 2 species that can get very tall but you still need to hold it up. You also can get by with a screening product that is 6-8 feet tall. Why do you need 14 foot tall screening? My approach for screening is to use multiple species that grow at different heights. I call it the “building approach.” You don’t build a tall building with all one length of board, right? Why is that? You need strength. So in my fortress product I use wgf grain sorghum that grows 3-5 feet tall as the strength. I then use pearl millet as the 2nd tier. It grows 5-7 feet tall. The final tier is a screening sorghum and the Egyptian wheat. The shorter forages help support and hold up the taller species in times of heavy winds and snow. This also gives is emergency feed for deer and birds once we get into late January and February when there is not much else out there for your wildlife to consume. These screenings will tilt down eventually. Another advantage of screenings is they help build organic matter, smother weeds and in the case of sunn hemp, can fixate some nitrogen for you.
Another area of concern for screenings is planting depth. Many of these warm season annuals need to be planted deeper than people realize. Many sorghums need to be planted in the 1” deep range. You may be able to get by slightly shallower in the case of Egyptian wheat and some millets. Part of the seeding challenge with these forages is planting date. Most need ground temps to be 65 degrees with no more threat of frost. A frost will stunt them or kill them completely.
In closing, ask for a tag before buying any screening product. The days of “just buy it” are gone in the farming world. Let’s bring truth and clarity into the wildlife industry. Let’s be smarter to do better.