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Serving: Central

USDA program offers hay and pasture relief

Citing ongoing dry conditions and a rainfall deficit affecting Tennessee, officials with the USDA's Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service are reminding producers enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program that with a modification to conservation plans, certain CRP stands established to permanent grasses (cool-season and native warm-season grasses) can be cut for hay or grazed. Most eligible areas for managed haying and grazing are land that was enrolled in a general signup.

Beginning July 2, participants who have received written permission can hay or graze CRP stands. According to Gregg Brann, NRCS grazing lands specialist, “Native grasses will be an excellent source of hay during this drought. Due to deep rooting of natives, they will be more vegetative and higher quality than other forages that have dried up.

“It is important to harvest native grasses as soon as possible after the July 2 date. The ideal height to harvest natives for hay is 30 inches or when the first seedhead appears.

“My calculations show if CRP yields 4 tons per acre and half of the hay is given to the contract harvester for cutting, raking, and rolling the hay, the producer would still have four rolls of hay for a cost of only $4 per roll.”

CRP participants can have the next annual payment reduced by only 25-percent for acres hayed or grazed this summer. Hay harvested under the managed haying option can be sold, offering an attractive financial incentive considering recently reported hay shortages and potential worsening conditions.

Haying or grazing is allowed only once every three years on the same acreage.

Mike Hansbrough, NRCS private lands biologist, says, “Most native warm-season grass stands have become too thick for many species of wildlife. Removal of this grass with only one cutting will make the stands better for wildlife in the long term.”

In the case of native warm-season grasses, landowners can expect 30 inches or more of regrowth within a couple of months, providing wildlife cover later this summer and into fall and winter.

CRP continuous buffer strips, generally established in more sensitive areas, are not eligible for this haying or grazing option.

For more information about the Conservation Reserve Program, contact your nearest USDA Service Center, or visit the Natural Resources Conservation Service Web site at and look for CRP under Programs or the Farm Services.

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