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Specialist outlines CRP haying, grazing considerations

Agriculture.com Staff 02/12/2016 @ 3:49am

The extensive flooding in the Midwest U.S. and its effect on forage and livestock enterprises have prompted our government officials to permit haying and grazing on land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through several "emergency use" programs. One permits haying or grazing after August 1 with a nominal "administration fee." The other permits only grazing -- sooner, but at a cost of 25% of the annual CRP rental payment. If you are considering the use of CRP land for haying or grazing there are some considerations and important first steps that you need to follow.

Both USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will be involved in the administration of the emergency use of CRP contract land. This means you will have to visit both local offices for details and final guidelines. Rules regulating use varies between the program options, so consult your local USDA-FSA and NRCS representatives to compare program costs and rules.

There is not much uniformity in CRP vegetation. Much of it is smooth bromegrass- or tall fescue-dominant; some is warm-season grass-dominant. Most CRP has some compliment of weeds and often some volunteer trees or brush. There may be considerable surface roughness due to erosion, rodent or ant mounds, etc. Fences are likely in disrepair.

The quantity and nutritive quality of the forage will vary with forage species, stand density, soil fertility, and degree of old, decomposing vegetation in the lower canopy. You are encouraged to do a thorough inspection of your fields to determine current conditions and any limitations that need to be addressed for each particular use, either hay or grazing.

How much forage is in those CRP fields? What is its feeding value? Data on this type of forage is limited, but my guesses are:

  • Estimated standing crop yields on July 1 -- One and one-half to three tons per acre, depending a lot on stand density, soil type, and how much "residual," or old dead stems are present.
  • Estimated yields on August 1 (as first use) -- About the same, only a small amount of "new" regrowth would be accumulating in the bottom of the canopy.
  • Estimated additional yields of regrowth during summer and autumn -- One-third to one-half ton per acre more yield -- with "normal" Iowa summer weather, having warm, intermittent rain. With higher than normal summer/fall rainfall and cooler than normal temperatures, there would only be a slight increase in summer/fall regrowth, and little or no additional regrowth would be expected with higher than normal summer temperatures and no appreciable rain through late summer and fall.

Modest amounts of nitrogen (25 to 40 pounds N per acre) would not be expected to add much added yield if applied in July before harvest or grazing. A modest nitrogen application in mid- to-late August, may provide economical yield returns if temperatures and rainfall support good fall growth.

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