As this year’s drought intensifies, folks are quickly running short of forage. Pastures did not produce as much as in an average year and are not going to last under regular stocking rates. The same goes for hayland.
Due to the D2 Drought Monitor classification, most South Dakota counties qualify for Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) haying and grazing for emergency and non-emergency use. Producers interested in utilizing CRP acres need to work with their local U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (USDA FSA) office, as contract specifications vary based on the type and kind of conservation signup utilized. Information on the program can be found in our article, Drought Assistance Questions Answered.
A drought management plan may include utilizing CRP acres for haying or grazing; however, there are some production components to consider.
First, consider the overall plant composition of the CRP stand. Evaluate the forb (broad-leaf plants, like wildflowers) versus grass composition to determine if haying or grazing is the right fit for the acres. Grazing might be a better option if the stand contains more forbs, because cattle will search out the grass and leave the forbs. In addition, forbs are an important source of food for pollinators, insects in general and wildlife.
If utilizing CRP this time of year, especially if the CRP is a warm-season-dominated grass stand, it can be injured by cutting too close to the ground, because it is in a rapid stem elongation phase.
Cool-season-dominated grass stands are already mature of generally poor quality. Grazing might be a better option. It is less harmful to the stand, and you can set the stocking rate to leave sufficient residual.
Second, determine and develop a new weed management plan for acres hayed or areas sacrificed for supplemental water location. Pure grass stands are easier to manage for weeds than diverse mixtures of grasses and desirable forbs.
Thirdly, managers might also need to keep in mind how haying or grazing changes wildlife habitat quality. If you rely on hunting income, you might have to balance the pros and cons of using CRP for your livestock operation.
Drought planning is essential, and CRP can be used if the acres qualify for haying and grazing.