Getting the Most Forage Value from Your CRP

Getting the Most Forage Value from Your CRP April 13, 2016

With prior approval from your county FSA office, some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres can now be periodically used as pasture or hay.  If that is in your plans, take steps to make it work for you.

CRP By the Numbers after 30 Years

  • December 2015 marked the 30th anniversary for the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program.
  • As of September 2015, 24.2 million acres nationally were enrolled in CRP. As of late February 2016 Nebraska had 773,203 acres enrolled.
  • Nationally, contracts on 1.64 million acres of CRP are set to expire on Sept. 30, 2016. In Nebraska 63,039 acres are set to expire on that date.
  • See the FSA Nebraska CRP Newsletter for average rental rates by county, program options.

For years the only time you could use CRP was in an emergency, but now some users can actually plan on using CRP forage.

First, consult with your county FSA office to see if this use is allowed under the program you're reigstered for.

Then, assess plant growth in the CRP areas and consider what's likely to be available by mid-summer. In most cases, so much dead plant trash exists that yield of new green growth will be low. In addition, weeds may be a problem.

One of the best ways to improve yield and quality of CRP forage is a prescribed burn in the spring.  This removes old, dead plant trash, promotes new green growth, and controls some weeds and trees.  Before starting, be sure you can burn both safely and legally.

Control options will vary based on the weed problems in your CRP.  Thistles and broadleaves often are controlled best using herbicides like Grazon and Milestone. For specific recommendations, see the 2016 Guide for Weed, Disease, and Insect Management in Nebraska (Nebraska Extension EC130).

Most CRP fields have had no fertilizer for many years so yields often increase nicely when nitrogen, and sometimes phosphorus, fertilizers are applied. Don't fertilizer until you  have removed the old, dead growth and controlled most of the weeds.

Please note, however, that while herbicides and fertilizer (especially nitrogen) are likely to enhance grass production, they also may reduce the population and productivity of wildflowers and other plants that contribute to the wildlife habitat benefits of your CRP.  In some situations you may prefer to maintain this plant diversity rather than seek increased forage production.

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