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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

August 31, 2000

Wildlife damage costing Ontario farmers $41 million annually

Ravenous raccoons, birds, deer and other wildlife are eating their way through Ontario farms to the tune of about $41 million a year, but farmers still have a strong appreciation for wildlife and consider much of the loss "the price of doing business," a groundbreaking University of Guelph study has found.

The study, headed by Prof. Kim Rollins, Department of Agricultural Economics and Business, is the first ever to put a price tag on wildlife damage to Ontario's field crop, fruit, vegetable, beef and sheep farms. It reports that wildlife damage exceeds $33 million annually, and farmers are spending an additional $7.5 million trying to keep critters at bay. Farmers are also reporting that wildlife-caused losses to crops and livestock have increased over the past five years.

Even so, nearly 80 per cent of farmers surveyed said wildlife is a necessary part of the balance of nature, and more than half take measures to support wildlife, investing some $8 million to enhance habitats on their farms in 1998 alone.

"The bottom line is that wildlife require a natural habitat. The animals are not owned, they are wild, and farmers realize this," Rollins said. "But farmers' level of tolerance to losses varied, often depending on the wildlife doing the damage." For example, black birds can do excessive damage to fruit crops, but most producers consider the losses a result of poor farming practices, she said. However, the same farmers might not be as tolerant of losses due to raccoons. "I think there is a sense with some wildlife, especially predators, that someone should be doing something about it, so the tolerance threshold is lower. We found this over and over again," Rollins said.

The most ambitious wildlife study to date for Ontario, the research was based on a random sampling of some 1,000 Ontario farms. The project was conducted for the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association on behalf of the Ontario Agriculture Commodity Council. It included three separate surveys and extensive farming logs that quantified losses over a two-year period. A final report of findings was completed this summer. The study analysed losses and abatements for the 1998/1999 season, considered representative of an average year.

The study primarily examined damage from large mammals such as deer and bears, small mammals including coyotes, wolves, dogs, and raccoons, water fowl and birds. Findings include:

-- Overall, approximately one-third of producers have experienced significant wildlife-caused losses in the last five years to one or more commodities. Losses were reported by 50 per cent of field crop, fruit and vegetable farms, 10 per cent of beef operations and 30 per cent of sheep farms.

-- About 15 per cent of fruit producers and 4 per cent of vegetable producers spend an estimated $1 million annually replanting or repruning as a result of wildlife-caused losses.

-- Farmers invest more than $7.5 million and 800,000 hours annually in wildlife abatement.

-- Racoons are responsible for the most damage to field crops, followed by deer and geese. Birds are the No. 1 culprit to fruit farmers, and vegetable producers are affected most by raccoons, rodents and blackbirds. Coyotes and dogs account for most losses suffered by beef and sheep producers.

-- Farmers feel losses could be reduced by improving programs that link hunters and farmers; increasing financial compensation and subsidies for preventive techniques; and better knowledge of preventive measures.

Rollins added it is important to keep the study in perspective. An annual loss of $41 million is small compared to the total amount of money generated from farming in Ontario. In addition, losses are not distributed evenly among farmers. "For 90 per cent of farmers, the damage from wildlife is minimal," she said. However, for those that do experience damage, it can be extreme and exceed their ability to economically sustain the losses, the study said.

Contact: Prof. Kim Rollins Department of Agricultural Economics and Business (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3890

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3338

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