Sometimes the best policy may be to go ahead and do it if you think it's the right thing to do and ask forgiveness later if you bent a rule or two. At least that's what some of my friends tell me. This is definitely not one of those times. If you're going to graze or make hay off of Conservation Reserve Program acres, visit your local FSA office first and get permission, preferably in writing, before you graze or mow the first blade of grass or sprig of legume.
"That's the biggest message we can get across," says Julia Wickard, director of FSA in Indiana. "We want to help people, but we don't want anyone to do anything that might affect their eligibility in USDA programs down the road. Make sure you explain what you're going to do, and have permission from your local FSA office before you do it."
USDA Secretary of Agriculture opened the CRP grazing and haying release to all 92 counties in Indiana last week, as the U.S. Drought Monitor continued to indicate that many Indiana counties were headed deeper into drought. Thunderstorms have provided some relief, but they have been inconsistent and often only cover a small area.
There are 281,000 acres in CRP in Indiana, Wickard notes. However, not all of those are eligible for haying and grazing. She estimates that just over 118,000 acres would be eligible.
Some newer contracts limit emergency grazing until the bird nesting season ends August 1. Since that's this week, it won't delay you very long. However, you need to know what your contract says. You also need to remember that if you hay or graze these acres, your annual payment this year will be reduced by 10%. The normal reduction is 25%, but Vilsack stated a reduced penalty of 10% for this year only in an earlier announcement about grazing CRP acres.