Haying CRP may not be best answer
It is rare for the USDA to allow haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. I can only recall a few times since the mid-80s when extremely dry conditions have prompted officials to allow the emergency use of CRP acreage. Usually, the approval has been announced so late in the year that the forage was of little or no use.
This year is different. Ag Secretary Ann Veneman announced in early July that emergency haying and grazing of CRP acres would be allowed in all counties in 18 states, including Kansas, subject to state approval. On July 15, the state Farm Service Agency committee granted formal approval for statewide CRP haying and grazing until the end of August.
Those who decide to hay Conservation Reserve acres should carefully consider what they might gain versus what they could lose, especially given the relatively poor quality of the forage on most CRP acres.
Haying will only be allowed on half of a farmer’s CRP acres. Producers also will forfeit 25 percent of their 2002 CRP rental income on the acres that are hayed, or about $12 to $16 per acre in eastern Kansas.
Farmers will be allowed to sell any hay they cut off CRP acres, and producers who donate the hay to someone in need won’t be required to give up a portion of their rental income. County FSA offices should have fun determining what actually constitutes a donation of hay. One official told me he already has received calls from producers who clearly were being creative.
I get the impression that most county FSA offices probably won’t require documentation on donated CRP hay, but it may help you make your case. If you plan to use the donation clause to avoid losing part of your CRP rental income, remember that officials will be most impressed with your benevolence to someone truly in need. I sure wouldn’t claim the hay was donated to a wealthy uncle in Butler County who needed it for his horses.
Walter Pick, Kansas State Extension specialist in rangeland management, speculates that only the CRP acreage in the eastern third of the state may be worth haying. He also points out that CRP acreage generally isn’t managed like other areas in native grass, very little is burned and none is fertilized — so the quality of the forage will be mediocre at best.
Pick estimates that average Conservation Reserve ground can be expected to yield about three-quarters of a ton of hay per acre. He bases that partly on actual yields he has seen this year on managed bluestem. Pick also recommends growers cut CRP hay 3 inches to 4 inches high. He has real concerns that cutting it any shorter could severely damage stands.
For those who plan to sell or donate CRP hay, Pick cautions that many acres in eastern Kansas likely contain sericea lespedeza, a noxious weed the state desperately is trying to control. Pick says sericea isn’t something we want to spread around the state, or to drought-effected areas outside Kansas. Sericea isn’t the only noxious weed that can be found on CRP ground. In central and western Kansas fields, bindweed is a huge problem.
While the quality of CRP hay probably will leave a lot to be desired, K-State Extension range livestock nutritionist Bob Cochran says it should be moderately digestible for cowherds. Cochran says much of the hay will have low to moderate protein levels but will be reasonable for maintaining beef herds as long as they are fed supplements.
No one I talked to was willing to hazard a guess as to what CRP hay may be worth. There simply are too many variables. However, based on current prices for good quality grass hay, it would be reasonable to assume that fair quality grass hay from CRP acres might sell for $25 to $30 per ton for large round bales, and maybe $35 to $40 per ton for small squares.
You will note I based those numbers on fair quality hay. I anticipate most CRP hay won’t be that good. Prices ultimately will be determined by the availability of hay later this summer and fall if drought conditions persist, who’s willing to buy it, and whether the hay might contain noxious weeds.
The numbers tell me that producers who hay CRP acres will be giving up as much as they are gaining once lost rental income and swathing and baling costs are taken into consideration.
Still, for some beef producers who have their backs against the wall, CRP hay could help them get by until next season. At a minimum, it may be a way to avoid paying much higher prices for grass hay later this year.
Kelly Lenz is farm director
for AM 580 WIBW Radio
and the Kansas Agriculture Network.
See LENZ, page 4
Lenz: Farmers who donate hay
to others may keep rental income
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