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MID-CONTRACT MANAGEMENT: USDA has rules landowners must follow for maintaining acres that are in the Conservation Reserve Program. Mowing is only allowed at certain times, for example. You must schedule maintenance and management activities on CRP land outside of the primary nesting season.

Follow Rules for Maintaining CRP Acres

USDA Conservation Reserve Program contracts require landowners to perform certain maintenance activities.

FAQ: I have 80 acres of grassland in USDA's Conservation Reserve Program. Do I need to mow it? How often? What else do I need to do to maintain my CRP contract and stay eligible for CRP payments.

Answer: The rules for maintenance of Conservation Reserve Program acres have changed throughout the 27-year history of the CRP. Cosmetic or periodic mowing is no longer allowed. A primary nesting season has been established -- in Iowa, those dates are May 15 through August 1. Also, beginning with the 26th general CRP sign-up in the spring of 2003, most CRP contracts began to require maintenance activities during the life of the contract. This maintenance is known as mid-contract management, or MCM.

Vickie Friedow and Beth Grabau of the state Farm Service Agency office in Des Moines provide the following answers to commonly asked questions regarding CRP maintenance, the primary nesting season, mid-contract management and options for haying and grazing. Friedow is the state conservation program specialist for USDA/FSA in Iowa; Grabau is the public relations and outreach specialist. Landowners and farmers who need more information should contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency office.

QUESTION: My landlord has enrolled land into CRP. I've been asked to help maintain these acres. I'd like more information on how they are to be maintained. What are the basic rules? What are the options?

Answer: This maintenance is mid-contract management, or MCM. The conservation plan of operations for the CRP acreage will provide the years and activities that are to be completed. Generally, activities must be completed before the end of year six of a 10- year CRP contact and before the end of year nine of a 15-year CRP contract.

The MCM options vary depending on the CRP practice; participants select one option that will be performed during the life of the contract. In general, MCM is applied to one-third of the acreage in the field. But for fields of 20 acres or less, the MCM may be applied to the entire field. Eligible MCM options include burning, spraying, disking and interseeding.

CRP participants must schedule maintenance and management activities on CRP acres outside of the primary nesting season. For Iowa, the primary nesting season begins May 15, 2013 and continues through August 1, 2013. CRP participants should refer to their completed conservation plan and NRCS Job Sheets provided during the development of the conservation plan for guidance.

Cost-share documents along with detailed bills are to be submitted to the FSA county office after the activity has been completed. Mid contract management activities are required and failure to perform them on a timely basis will result in a determination of noncompliance.

QUESTION: I have a new CRP contact and have established a new seeding. Weed control as the seeding becomes established is difficult. Are there any exceptions that will allow for some mowing of these newly-seeded areas?

Answer: Generally, acres enrolled in CRP are not eligible for cosmetic or periodic mowing at any time. Mowing or spraying a weed infested area is not allowed on CRP acreage during the primary nesting season (in Iowa, May 15 through August 1) without prior authorization from the FSA county committee in consultation with NRCS. A written and approved request will need to be filed prior to any mowing/spraying activities.

However, to aid in establishment of new CRP seedings, some guidelines have been established for cool and warm season grasses. Consult with NRCS before conducting these activities. In general:

* Cool season grasses (brome, legumes, clover, orchard, timothy grass, etc.) that are planted with a nurse crop need to have the companion crop (such as oats) clipped so the oats don't head out. Mowing then needs to be done only if there is a weed problem.

* Warm season grasses (switchgrass, forbs, big and little bluestem, Indian grass, etc.) take some time to become established. Mowing high, at 6 to 8 inches in June and then again in July for the first year need to be completed as outlined in your conservation plan.

QUESTION: I'm aware of Emergency Haying and Grazing policies. With last year's drought conditions, are there other options for those of us who may need hay or pasture?

Answer: Generally, there is no haying and grazing on CRP acres for most conservation practices. However on certain general CRP grass seeding practices, participants can have a managed haying and grazing component if it is a part of the conservation plan developed by NRCS. The haying or grazing is to be done either April 1 through May 14 or from August 2 to September 30. On any specific acreage, the haying or grazing can only be done once every three years during the duration of the contract. Producers who use managed haying or grazing must also take a 25% payment reduction of their annual CRP payment.

Continuous CRP practices such as filter strips, waterways, contour buffers, and bird habitat buffers can be incidentally grazed with an adjacent cornfield if livestock are grazing on harvested cornstalks. Again, CRP participants who used incidental grazing must take a 25% payment reduction of their annual CRP contract payment.

Important note: Managed haying and grazing must be requested and approved by the local FSA county committee prior to the haying and grazing.

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