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Returning CRP land to crops not easy task

If you’re dumping your Conservation Reserve Program land and haven’t a clue how to start farming it, welcome to the confusing world of expiring CRP acres.


If you’re dumping your Conservation Reserve Program land and haven’t a clue how to start farming it, welcome to the confusing world of expiring CRP acres.

“There is no one answer” addressing how to reclaim land that went natural for many years, said Ian Burke, a Washington State University weed scientist, earlier this year at the Direct Seed and Oilseed Cropping Systems meeting in Kennewick, Wash.

Many acres are coming out of the USDA program, with contracts expiring last September and this July. An earlier startup date in May is approved to begin converting CRP land if growers are willing to take CRP payment cuts.

Key Points

• Converting Conservation Reserve Program land to farming is challenging.

• Weed control issues, such as sheep fescue, can be monumental.

• Fertilizer testing will be needed before planting any crops.

“Spring planting might be considered under some scenarios,” said Burke, particularly for those fields with high spring water content and good growing-season precipitation to help boost yield. But growers should see increased disease in the fields where weeds have not been controlled, he added.

Use of the undercutter unit to control weeds has not met with a lot of success, he added. “Weeds reappeared,” Burke reported. “Be prepared for the reappearance of the weeds you saw before the land went into the CRP program.”

To control some weeds on former takeout CRP land may be difficult without using tillage, something direct-seeders avoid.

Controlling sheep fescue “is the hardest to achieve” on the old CRP land, he said.

Watch nitrogen levels

Expect the nitrogen on the reclaimed land to be low. “After 30 years of CRP, the nitrogen will be depleted, so you might want to add a little to get the weeds to grow for better herbicide control,” said Burke.

While you can control sheep fescue with products like Select, the plant has to be at a proper growth stage for the herbicide to be effective, he said. Producers may want to apply some fertilizer to the CRP land before their contracts expire if their agreement with the government allows, in order to “wake up” the grass stand for a better kill, Burke added.

On the former CRP acres, farmers could also face low water content in their soil, which could result in delayed plantings, Burke said.

With more acres coming out of CRP, custom-seeder Jon Olson of Garfield, Wash., said 10% of his work is now on CRP takeout land.

The owner of Double J Farms has some advice for producers: “You will want the CRP land dead [without vegetation].”

In working on CRP takeout land, he says the soil is a rough mess of animal holes and dens dug by badgers and other critters.

“Make sure you do soil fertilizer testing very intensively before you plant,” Olson urged producers at the convention. “Talk to a neighbor who has had CRP takeout experiences before you do anything.”

This article published in the April, 2014 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2014.

Conservation Tillage

Conventional Tillage

Government Programs

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