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Clearing the air on waterway mowing

The word has spread that if you establish a grass waterway, especially if you accepted government help to do so, you can’t mow it during the nesting season. As it turns out, that’s half right. It depends upon which program funded the waterway.

Gail Peas, Indiana Farm Service Agency specialist in conservation programs, agreed to answer questions from farmers about waterways and related issues. Here are her responses to your questions.

IPF: Is it true that waterways can’t be mowed during the summer?

PEAS: If the waterway was installed as part of the continuous Conservation Reserve Program, or the general CRP sign-up program, it can’t be mowed during the nesting season for wildlife. This is defined in Indiana as April 1 through Aug. 1. It could be mowed once annually after Aug. 1. We recognize that if there is too much vegetation, it may eventually interfere with the waterway’s ability to handle water flowing through it. This same restriction also applies to waterways established under certain other wildlife-related sign-up programs.

IPF: Are there USDA programs that do not restrict mowing of waterways?

PEAS: Yes. If the grass waterway was established as one of your practices required through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, then there are no restrictions on mowing. You can mow anytime you feel it’s necessary to maintain vegetative cover.

IPF: What if the farmer built the waterway on his or her own, without any government cost-share assistance?

PEAS: Then he or she is free to mow it whenever they like. They can also bale hay off those waterways if they weren’t installed with government assistance.

IPF: If the waterway was installed with government assistance, is haying allowed?

PEAS: Some government programs restrict haying of waterways, and some do not. Under CRP, haying of grass waterways is not allowed. However, under EQIP, haying is not prohibited. If in doubt, contact your USDA office for details.

IPF: So it’s possible that a farmer could mow some waterways on the farm whenever he or she wants, but yet only be allowed to mow other waterways once per year after Aug. 1.

PEAS: Absolutely! It all depends upon which program the farmer enrolled in to install the waterway, or if the farmer was in a program at all. He or she may have chosen to install the waterway on their own, in which case FSA has no control over how it is managed.

IPF: Are there exceptions to the rule for continuous CRP waterways of not mowing until after Aug. 1?

PEAS: Farmers can request permission to mow infested weed areas, such as thistles, before the normal date. However, they are only allowed to mow the areas infested with weeds. They also must then follow up with a spray application to control perennial weeds. The agreement to spray becomes part of their written agreement.

IPF: Can they make this request every year?

PEAS: At some point, if they are not controlling the weeds, they would be out of compliance for lack of weed control. Mowing alone won’t control the weeds. They need to document that they follow up and spray as well. The important point, however, is to get permission in writing from your local FSA office before you do anything before Aug. 1 on waterways where restrictions apply.

This article published in the March, 2011 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.