Mississippi farmers face problems from feral hogs

Multiplication tables are mind-blowing when it comes to wild hogs: One sow and two six month old piglets have the capability in 20 years of becoming 220,000 crop-eating, land-destroying, water-contaminating, disease-spreading animals.

Apply that formula to the thousands of feral hogs now in the Mississippi landscape, and the potential numbers become downright scary, farmers say.

Along with already overpopulated deer, wild hogs are increasingly becoming the bane of farmers in many areas of the state.

“In 1979, when I was with the Mississippi Bureau of Plant Industry, it was rare to see a deer track in a crop field,” says Benny Graves, now executive director of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council at Vardaman. “Today, deer are everywhere — night and day — and they’re more and more a problem for farmers. They can do significant damage to crops.

“Wild hogs are getting to be as much a problem as deer in some areas,” he said at the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s summer sweet potato commodity meeting at Thorn, Miss. “One of our sweet potato growers lost 5 acres recently from hog damage, and other growers have had varying amounts of damage. And it’s not limited to sweet potatoes — they’re pretty much indiscriminate in their destruction.

“Unless some serious action is taken, I think over time wild hogs in north Mississippi will be a worse problem for farmers than deer.”

And, says Graves, the action needs to come sooner rather than later. “The way they multiply, if we wait, the problem is only going to get much worse.”

In addition to crop losses, he notes, the hogs pose a potential water quality problem because of their contamination of streams, and their extensive rooting causes damage to fields and habitat for desirable wildlife, as well as facilitating the spread of invasive plant species.

And, says Bruce Leopold, Sharp Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Mississippi State University, a herd of hogs in the fall can consume up to 400 pounds of acorns per day, depriving squirrels, turkeys, and other wildlife of feed needed to get them through the winter.

“Eradication isn’t feasible,” says Samantha Newman, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation public policy director, “and there is no state funding to do any kind of control measures. Efforts are under way to see if there are ways to get some money to deal with this problem and to educate the public about it.”

Contributing to the problem, she says, is people who move the animals from one place to another. “They think they’re helping the situation, but they aren’t; they’re only spreading it. There certainly needs to be a move to prevent the transportation of these animals from one area to another.”

Any significant program to curb the increase of wild hogs, Newman says, “needs to be a collective initiative between various segments of agriculture — or even a multi-state effort.”

Citing another bit of mathematics, she says, “In order to just keep wild hog populations at the present level, with no increase, it would be necessary to kill 80 percent of them on a yearly basis.”

Danny Clark, Houston grower and president of the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council, points out that Farm Bureau’s policy book says the organization “supports the right of landowners to eliminate nuisance wild or feral hogs by any means necessary,” but he notes there is currently no state regulation regarding the animals.

Because of the threat to the state’s agriculture and environment, a Working Summit on Wild Hogs is scheduled at the state capitol in Jackson in September, and will include members of the House and Senate Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks Committees, biologists with the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, staff of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, other key legislators and non-governmental organizations.

It will be co-hosted by Sen. Giles Ward, Louisville; Rep. Scott Bounds, Philadelphia; and Mississippi State University’s Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts.

“The issue of wild hogs in our state is of growing importance to our agriculture and forestry producers, our water resources, and the health and well-being of our citizens,” says Bruce Leopold of MSU, who provided the multiplication example at the top of this article.

The session at the capitol, he says, will include experts from other states who will discuss what has (and has not) worked legislatively, obstacles in dealing with wild hog control, and ways to deal with those obstacles. A specialist from the Mississippi State University School of Veterinary Medicine will discuss human and domestic livestock threats posed by the animals.

“Our overarching goal,” Leopold says, “is to provide participants with relevant information about the wild hog issue, how other states have dealt with the problem, and how Mississippi can be proactive in dealing with this issue before it’s too late.”

He notes that a booklet is being produced that “clearly outlines the issues regarding wild hogs, to help inform and convince others of the profound threat we’re facing from these animals, and the need for immediate action.”

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