Stop by Heart of Missouri Agri Service in Fayette almost any day of the year, and among the farmers buying fertilizer and livestock feed you also are likely to find someone buying something for wildlife.
Three thousand pounds of sunfl ower seed and 600 pounds of black thistle seed cross the loading dock each month during the winter. In the spring and summer, it's thousands of pounds of wildlife food plot seed mix, mostly for quail. In the fall, tons of shelled corn goes out the door monthly to feed deer.
In all, Manager Ryan McDowell estimates these and other wildliferelated items make up 8 percent of his trade, and sales are increasing.
“It used to be a pretty low amount,” McDowell said. “Truthfully, it was sort of a hassle. But over time I realized this is something we can really make money on. There are a lot of people buying 20 or 30 acres, and they're not so much interested in raising farm-type products. They're more interested in raising wildlife.”
Mike Wyss, whose family owns the Russellville Locker and Feed Plant west of Jefferson City, does a thriving business slaughtering domestic livestock. But for a few weeks each fall, normal business stops.
During the November firearms deer season, Wyss hires six to eight extra workers to process hunters' deer. By the time the antlerless portion of deer season ends in mid-December, they have processed about a thousand deer. That is 20 to 25 percent of his total business for the year.
“Deer became a big part of our business about 20 years ago,” says Wyss. “We were fortunate. Starting in the late 1980s our beef and pork business shut down. For some packers then, deer made up 60 to 70 percent of their gross. You have to take advantage of that. It was a long time between Novembers.”
McDowell's and Wyss' experiences represent the tip of an economic iceberg. Since Missourians began investing in science-based conservation 70 years ago, forests, fish and wildlife have become important economic engines for the Show-Me State.
The phenomenon caught my attention a couple of years ago when the National Wild Turkey Federation announced state-by-state turkey harvest figures. Missouri topped the list by a wide margin. It made me wonder how many hunters were coming here to take advantage of the nation's best turkey hunting.
I discovered that from 1980 to 2003 nonresident turkey permit sales increased by more than 500 percent. Last year,