Producers and landowners who have Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts expiring have several options if they will not be extending or renewing the contract. One of the options is to use established cover for hay, said Walt Fick, K-State Research and Extension range and pasture management specialist.
“Land enrolled in CRP is generally highly erodible. Maintaining these acres with a perennial grass cover will reduce erosion, improve water quality, enhance wildlife, and reduce sedimentation,” Fick said.
Management decisions related to hay production include fertilization, burning, and time of cutting.
“Most CRP in Kansas was seeded to warm-season native grasses. Although fertilization with nitrogen and/or phosphorus might increase production, I do not recommend it because of potential changes in plant composition. Cool-season grasses and broadleaf plants will be stimulated by fertilization,” Fick said.
Fertilization of cool-season grasses such as smooth brome and tall fescue should be based on a soil test, he added. He suggested that land owners follow recommendations found in the Kansas State University Research and Extension publications: Smooth Brome Production and Utilization C-402 or Tall Fescue Production and Utilization C-729.
If the land has not been burned for a few years, it would be a good idea to conduct a prescribed burn, said the K-State agronomist.
“Burning will remove mulch and standing dead litter. Although this material will add yield when baled, forage quality will be reduced,” he said.
The proper time to hay native warm-season grasses in Kansas is during July, he added.
“Crude protein will drop a half percentage point every week during July, but will usually be 6 to 8 percent during this time. Peak yield on warm-season grasses will probably not occur until August, but by that time crude protein content will be less than 5 percent. A mid-July haying date on native grass is a good compromise between yield and quality,” Fick said.
Cool-season grasses should be hayed during the heading to full bloom stage to optimize yield and quality, he said.
Stock conservatively when first grazing former CRP ground
Grazing livestock on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ground coming out of contract is an option that producers and landowners may want to consider, said Walt Fick, K-State Research and Extension range and pasture management specialist. This option may require some special considerations initially, however.
“Most CRP stands coming off contract are initially not in condition for full grazing pressure. A management strategy covering two to four years may be necessary to condition the plants to use,” Fick said. “Use a light stocking rate to allow good plant growth the first year. Adjust stocking rates in subsequent years based on stand development.”
After years of non-use the plants are in a state of low vigor and may have a limited root system, he explained. Loss of topsoil from previous cropping and large spacing between grass plants is common, often resulting in low total forage production.
Getting CRP ready to graze will probably require fencing and water development, he added.
“Fence off CRP that is adjacent to native rangeland. Experience has shown that animals will not utilize seeded grass as well as native sod when given a choice. Producers can partially overcome this problem by using grazing distribution tools such as water development, placement of salt and mineral, and burning,” Fick said. “Care should be taken in determining where to place water developments. If feasible, water developments should be positioned in a way that will encourage uniform grazing of the land.”
As with haying, if the land has not been burned for a few years, it would be a good idea to conduct a prescribed burn, he added.
“Burning will not only get rid of old dead material, but should increase tillering and help the grass stand continue to develop. Frequent burning is not recommended in western Kansas, however,” he said.
More information is available by contacting Fick at 785-532-7223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.