The July 15 release of 24 million acres of forage from the Conservation Reserve Program is the nearest thing to free feed that livestock producers with CRP can get, says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutritionist. It can be, however, a troublesome gift – in the form of poor quality forage.
"At first, the cost of baling poor quality forage seems prohibitive; but, compared to $8 corn, it may be a bargain," Sexten says.
Using the forage will require developing a strategy to make best use of what is there. Deciding whether to graze or to bale hay will depend on local conditions and needs.
Haying may be the best option, as grazing may be difficult because of lack of fencing or water. Still, some CRP ground may have overgrowth that makes haying impossible. If the CRP land is hayed, think about a better use for the acres in production that would normally have been hayed, Sexten says.
Extra land offers the opportunity to increase stocking rates on the farm. If all you gain from the release is an excess quantity of poor quality forage without increased utilization, you are not taking maximum use of the opportunity. Ground normally used for haying can become grazing land for stocker calves. Producers can temporarily increase stocking rates by retaining ownership of spring calves and add an extra 200 pounds of gain this fall before selling.
With the high price of grain, those extra pounds of gain on calves are going to be worth a premium. With the opportunity for Missouri tax credits and feedyards looking for heavier calves, adding weight to calves can be profitable. "Cheap gains on commodity feeds are more difficult to achieve, as feedstock supplies tighten" Sexten notes. "Producers must think of new ways of meeting the challenges of high feed prices."
Know all the restrictions on CRP use under rules of the Farm Service Agency. In addition, you must have an approved grazing plan with Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Check out Foraging Ahead in the July issue of Missouri Ruralist for more information on forage management.