A group of farmers in favour of the South Australian government’s plan to eradicate feral deer through aerial culling has held a meeting with the primary industries minister to show their support for the program.

It comes on the back of a campaign by deer hunters for the program to be halted because of concerns about animal cruelty, lead contamination and landowners’ rights, as well as wanting to continue enjoying their sport in South Australia.

The South Australian government plans to eradicate all feral deer in the state by 2032, mostly by shooting them from helicopters with the aid of thermal imaging.

It estimates there are about 40,000 feral deer in South Australia — mostly in the state’s south-east but also on the Fleurieu Peninsula and in the Adelaide Hills.

Peter Rasheed organised the meeting at his family’s Boolapuckee property between Kingston South East and Keith on Thursday.

He and other farmers met with Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven and showed her the damage caused by deer and efforts to mitigate it, such as tall fences. 

High cost for farmers

Deer compete with native wildlife and livestock for grass. They damage trees and contribute to erosion and road crashes.

The Rasheed family has installed 7 kilometres of deer-proof fencing around and within their property to prevent deer accessing pasture meant for sheep and cattle.

Combined with on-the-ground hunting, David Rasheed said aerial culling had helped significantly to control deer numbers.

“We had over 400 deer shot at our place in the first aerial cull and the ground shooters just cannot shoot those sort of numbers,” he said.

Farmer David Rasheed with a fence he built on his property to prevent deer accessing pasture.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Tammy Parker, who owned a farm with her husband closer to Kingston, said they had previously had a problem with poachers. 

“We can see that there’s a reduction in the numbers and we can see our economic viability has increased again,” she said.

“We’ve got better pastures. Our biodiversity, for example our malleefowl, are coming back.”

Farmers meet with Minister Clare Scriven and the Limestone Coast Landscape Board.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

A ‘heavy-handed’ approach

Landholders can choose to take part in the aerial culling program or eradicate the deer on their own properties themselves.

Liberal MLC Nicola Centofanti attended a meeting of deer hunters last month where concerns were raised that farmers’ plans were not being approved by the government because they were not able to eradicate deer as effectively using on-the-ground hunting rather than aerial culling.

“They are concerned about the heavy-handed way that this government is delivering the deer-culling program,” she said.

Nicola Centofanti says the Liberal Party supports aerial culling and deer eradication.(ABC News)

The government estimated farm direct productivity losses of $36 million last year, rising to $242 million by 2031 if the deer population had been left uncontrolled.

“The damage that’s caused to farming enterprises and to the environment is huge and the benefits of recreational hunting don’t outweigh those disadvantages,” Ms Scriven said.

She pointed out that the Liberal Party brought in the legislation underpinning the program when it was in government less than two years ago.

“It is really hard to understand the flip-flop that the opposition has done,” Ms Scriven said.

Hunters contribute to economy

Luke Balkin lives just across the border in Victoria but regularly visits South Australia for deer hunting.

He pays for fuel, accommodation, food and equipment while in SA, as well as the right to hunt on farmers’ properties.

“When you have X amount of people who travel from Victoria over to do these hunts, I think it could add right up for the economy,” Mr Balkin said.

“These people spend days over there — they stock up on fuel, they stock up on groceries, just to go on these hunts — it’s a massive benefit to SA.

“They bring their families along, they see how beautiful it is over there, and they want to come back.”

Deer hunter Luke Balkin, pictured at his house near Casterton in Victoria, visits SA to hunt.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

About 11,000 feral deer have been killed as part of the eradication program since May 2022, with a new round of culling set to begin when deer come together to mate in autumn.

The RSPCA has raised concerns that shooters targeting feral deer from helicopters using shotguns may not be able to tell whether the animals they shoot are dead or not.

However, a Flinders University study found all the deer that researchers cut open after an aerial cull had been fatally shot in the lungs or heart.

A CSIRO study found aerial culling was extremely effective at controlling deer populations compared with ground shooting, with up to 94 animals killed per hour during aerial culling. 

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