By Connor Lynch
PONTIAC — Western Quebec farmers are fed up with turkeys. More used to eating the birds, the farmers’ problem is the birds are eating their crops.
Beef farmer and Quebec Union of Agricultural Producers director Blake Draper said that wild turkeys are an increasing problem in Western Quebec in recent years.
Draper, who also grows sweet corn, said he’s lost as much as 30 dozen cobs in a night, and cash croppers in his area, in the Pontiac Region, north of Renfrew County, have lost whole swaths of their fields. The turkeys eat the perimeter of the field, as much as 20 or 30 feet deep. “On a long field, that adds up quickly,” he said.
The turkeys have also figured out they can spook his cattle and take their grain. Other producers have even bolder birds: “I’ve one friend who feeds cracked corn quite a bit. The turkeys watch for him to come out of his house.”
Part of the problem is the National Capital Commission, which owns land in the area. Hunting isn’t allowed on NCC land, and the turkeys seem to know it, Draper said.
There is a hunting season for turkeys in Quebec. But hunters are only allowed to take two male birds. Other control methods are limited. Farmers can use bird bangers, large air guns that create loud noises to scare off wildlife. But the birds seem to catch on, and they don’t forget food sources. Farmers also can’t use dogs to get rid of turkeys. “That’s called harassing wildlife,” even if the birds are on their land, he said.
Renfrew County cash crop farmer Jennifer Doelman, who crops about 2,500 acres at Douglas, said wildlife in general, including turkeys, are an ongoing issue. With the way crop insurance works, wildlife always seems to do enough damage to cost her, but not enough to trigger a claim. There’s a strong hunting community in the area which helps keep things manageable, but more could be done on the regulatory side, she said.
Ontario’s wild turkey spring hunting season runs from April 25 to May 31 but that prevents farmers from participating since everyone’s too busy planting, she said. Extending the season could only help farmers, Doelman said. Fall hunting season is from Oct. 15 to Oct. 27.
Ontario issues over 50,000 wild turkey hunting permits a year, although only about 7,600 birds are harvested annually. Quebec issued just shy of 18,000 permits last year.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada says wild turkeys were locally extinct in Ontario as a result of habitat loss and over-hunting. Reintroduction efforts began in 1984. They live in forests but venture onto the fields looking for food and are not fussy eaters.