A change last week in U.S. Department of Agriculture policy puts money in Conservation Reserve Program participants’ pockets if they signed up for emergency haying and grazing provisions.
“Generally, haying, livestock grazing, or harvesting and selling product from CRP acreage is not allowed,” county executive director of the Farm Service Agency program in Marion, Bill Harmon, said. “But the emergency haying contract allowed participants to cut up to 50 percent of grassland for their own use. A policy change now allows those participants to sell what they have produced from those acres, with no restrictions.”
Harmon said the release of CRP hay bales for direct sale was a surprising move by the USDA, but one that would benefit many area producers.
“Because of regulations, I am not allowed to release specific statistics on how much CRP ground was signed into the emergency program,” he said. “But total acres enrolled in Marion County fluctuates around 14,000 acres.
The emergency haying and grazing provision required CRP participants to sign a contract at the FSA office in Marion by Aug. 31. There is a small penalty for signing up acreage for the program, a 10 percent reduction in the annual agency payment to producer per program guidelines. The original contracts did not allow producers to sell the hay from their land but they could put it up for their own use.
“Every once and a while the USDA decides to reassess policies,” Harmon said. “This is good timing for those already signed up, might be too late for any others.”
Harmon said the initial emergency haying provision required the producer to identify fields on aerial photographs for potential hay production. After the hay was put up into bales, the producer was required to come back to the office and verify acres harvested and report tonnage yielded.
“There are two types of CRP programs ongoing here,” Harmon said. “General sign-up is for the larger fields and continuous contract is for the smaller producers that average around 10 acres per plot.
“The main purpose of CRP has always been erosion control,” Harmon said. “But it is beneficial to the farmer in the form of a rental payment for enrolling in the program, and secondarily, it helps save soil for future generations.”
Producers now enrolled in the emergency haying and grazing program must follow specific provisions, but profiting from sale of CRP grass bales is no longer prohibited.