DEBUNKING THE MYTH Food Plots in Agricultural Country are a Waste of Time

By Dean Weimer

The Midwest is famous for its fertile soils and agricultural production. Indeed this large vast swath of real estate is responsible for much of the world’s corn and soybean production and has garnered such  nicknames as “The Breadbasket” and “The Heartland” of the United States. Rightfully, the Midwest has garnered a reputation as one of the most fertile areas in the world. It is because of this fertility and agricultural production that the area has gained another noteworthy reputation: one of growing healthy, large-antlered white-tailed bucks and plenty of them. It is no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of America’s true giant typicals and nontypicals come from this region.

Folks that follow big buck production across North America are keenly aware of the capabilities that states like Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan and others are capable of because of the enhanced nutritional curve here. Many hunters refer to the region as “one big food plot” or a “buffet.” And in many ways, these statements are right on the money.

It’s because of ideas like these that some consider 21st century food plotting to be a waste of time in the Midwest. I’ve heard it many times through the years from people that feel food plots aren’t needed there because nutritional requirements of deer are supposedly met here year round. For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on overall whitetail nutrition in the spring growing season and beyond, as opposed to cool-season attraction, to try to answer the question of food plot necessity in the Midwest.


For starters, there are some misconceptions about optimum nutrition being provided in the heartland year round. Moreover, one of the foods grown commercially in the Midwest isn’t necessarily the super food that many well-meaning but often misled people think it is.

Whitetails in the Midwest are often referred to as corn fed, and although it’s true that deer love corn — and gain impressive fall body weights in large part because of their consumption of it — it’s really not a great whitetail food. You didn’t misread that last sentence.

Sure, corn is well received by deer and readily eaten, especially in fall and winter. But corn doesn’t provide great nutrition to deer in any season. It is actually low in protein (about 8 percent) and other important nutrients and isn’t used that much outside of the maturity stage.

Of course, deer eat young corn plants, but those plants don’t offer much in the way of overall nutrition. Research has shown that in order for bucks and does to optimize growth (whether it is physiological and/or antler growth in bucks or for milk and/or fawn production in does) protein levels need to be at least 16-18 percent year round. What corn in its mature stage provides is carbohydrates, or energy to deer — an important element of whitetail diets — but not an end-all nutritionally speaking. When corn is provided with other plants like Imperial Whitetail Clover, and other agricultural crops and natural plants, it can be an awesome component to a well-rounded diet.

Another huge misconception is that deer have great nutrition here year round. This particular school of thought has holes all through it. Perhaps the culprit of this innocently enough flawed thinking is soybeans.


Soybeans are a great whitetail food in the legume family and they are abundant region wide. They also have been the serendipitous and historical workhorse for antler and body growth throughout the region and other areas. Again, I’m not here to argue that soybeans aren’t a great whitetail food — everyone knows they are. But are they always present for deer? No.

All you need to do is look at what happened in Spring 2009 to see where this idea that soybeans are always present to know that soybeans aren’t always available. Everyone well remembers the super-wet conditions the Midwest saw in Spring 2009. Saturated soils everywhere kept farmers from getting seeds into their fields and soybean plants in particular weren’t available to deer until early June. In a good year, they aren’t really available until mid-late May.

When you consider that the antler-growing process begins as early as March in many areas, you kind of get the idea that perhaps farm crops aren’t available to deer year round after all. And we aren’t even considering what happens after soybeans and other commercial grains, are harvested.

As mentioned, soybeans are a great whitetail food, but we’ve also looked at why they aren’t always readily available to deer when they need them most. Soybeans are available for deer from roughly late May to late October in a good year — about five months. If you consider that waste beans are still consumed after the harvest, you can tack on another month — possibly two — on top of that.

In addition, hunters need to understand that soybeans aren’t used during their entire cycle, either. Once soybeans germinate, deer flock to them like children to candy at Halloween. However, after a couple of months, lignin production in the plants makes them less palatable and therefore less desirable to our deer.

Whitetails still use beans at this point in time, but not as well as they did weeks before when the young plants were tender and full of vitamins and minerals. The whitetail rumen has evolved through millennia into a machine that breaks down less fibrous materials than some of their relatives. This is why deer are known as selectors in the animal world.

When whitetail deer changed from grassland into a woodland species thousands of years ago they became more picky eaters. They evolved to select the most nutritious, tender, and readily palatable parts of woody plants long before the advent of modern agriculture. This also helps to explain why fertilizing and mowing your Imperial Clover plots are very important.


We talked briefly about the start of the antler-growing cycle and how it really starts not too awfully long after antler shedding. Antler buds start to form as early as March in many areas. When you consider that this is of one of the most stressful periods on bucks you get the idea that they need a highly nutritious food source as quickly as possible. This is where an established and well-maintained food plot of a high-protein legume like Imperial Whitetail Clover can really provide huge benefits for whitetails that are lucky enough to be exposed to such food sources once Earth begins its tilt back toward the sun.

When April’s warm rays start the growing cycle over again, Imperial Clover is the first thing to green-up and is there to provide optimum nutrition to deer while the farmers are still prepping their machinery. It also will benefit fawn-carrying does as well as spring’s new arrivals. It’s not always just about the mature bucks that you have on your property. Science has shown that lactating does require daily protein levels as high as 24 percent!

And, don’t forget that just over one-half of the fawns born are your future bucks. And speaking of future bucks, my farmer buddy and I have watched two fawn button-buck brothers all spring and summer. They and their mother have used our Imperial Clover plot for several months, and they were looking excellent in November. They were big, healthy and ready for wintertime. Because of their enhanced nutritional intake they were well on their way to a healthy start in life.

Providing Imperial Whitetail Clover to a stressed and nutritionally challenged whitetail herd several weeks before soybeans germinate is the ticket. Jump-start your herd health earlier than normal and you’ll reap the rewards of this added and timely nutritional boost for years to come.


Of course, the deer will still use natural browse, agricultural crops (when they emerge), and other food sources like alfalfa in hay (where present) because they cherish variety in their diets just like other mammals do. Plant a small test plot of Imperial Whitetail Clover, and see for yourself.

Also many people don’t understand the correlation of high nutritional intake in fall and how this can also boost the overall nutrition of deer going into winter and how this can translate into better antler growth the next spring. Everyone knows what kind of stress is put on bucks during the rut. After the post-rut rolls around most agricultural crops have been harvested. What better time for a great food plot to be there when they need it most? Again, Imperial Clover plots are there practically all year, so they benefit the herd not just in spring and summer. Deer will no doubt consume soybeans, corn, alfalfa/hay and natural forbs, mast and other browse species in the months leading up to spring. If you can also provide Imperial Whitetail Clover to them in addition to all these other foods you will be well on your way to ensuring that they come into spring in as good a shape as can be expected after a tough, long winter.


We’ve touched on why Imperial Whitetail Clover is a great food plot planting and how it can enhance the offerings already available to deer in the Midwest, but we haven’t touched on some of the added bonuses when compared to other commercial plot seeds on the market, or the many commercial agricultural crops that are planted throughout the area.

Imperial Clover has been specifically engineered to be drought tolerant, super palatable and very high in protein among other important nutrients. What this means is that it will be there for you when you need it most, working to provide high protein levels during times of stress. Another huge benefit is, Imperial Clover can do all this for up to 5 years or longer without having to replant.

We’ve also discussed how Imperial Clover will be there when other preferred deer foods aren’t. When you combine all of the benefits of planting Imperial Clover you can see that this decision is a complete win-win for whitetail deer and the hunters who pursue them. This is true throughout the whitetail range, let alone the fertile, agricultural-rich area of the Midwest. It’s true that deer nutrition is best in America in the Heartland for obvious reasons. It’s also true that the soil there is some of the best on the continent, let alone the world. It’s also true that planting Imperial Whitetail Clover can be the missing link in a total and complete whitetail buffet in the Midwest and all across the U.S.