One of the first reserves of forage many people think about when forage is short is the cool-season grass growing on Conservation reserve acres in the government program. Landowners get paid for those acres annually. Getting permission to graze them or make hay is not as easy as it sounds, and it comes with a cost and some strings.
Julia Wickard, Indiana state Farm Service Agency director, says over 20 counties have asked for release of these acres for grazing. It's not her call to make. She collects the requests and information, and in turn makes a request to officials in Washington, D.C. So far, no counties have been approved for release of CRP acres for grazing or haying.
If counties are approved, deciding to do it may not be automatic. First, there's a reduction in the annual payment rate. You will only receive 75% of your normal payment rate. Second, you can only graze 75% of the acres, and you must have a plan for how you are going to maintain wildlife if you graze the land.
Even if grazing is approved, haying requires a separate release. USDA won't release CRP acres for hay until after the end of the bird nesting season. That comes up around mid-August. If acres are released for haying, you can only make hay on 50% of your CRP acres.
What if you have a neighbor short on forage and you don't have livestock. If your county is approved you can rent him your land for haying and grazing, based on strict rules outlined by FSA. However, you can't bale hay and sell it to anyone.
FSA officials also say that if acres are released, it will only be acres in the actual conservation reserve [program, not waterways of filter strips of other practices in the continuous conservation reserve. Those acres will not be released for haying or grazing in all likelihood. The best advice is to keep in touch with your local FSA office, officials say. Don't let that first head of livestock onto a CRP acre until you have approval to do so.