Grazing livestock on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ground coming out of contract is an option producers and landowners may want to consider, says Walt Fick, Kansas State University Extension range and pasture management specialist. But he cautions producers to keep in mind some potential limitations.

“Most CRP stands coming off contract are initially not in condition for full grazing pressure,” Fick says. After years of non-use he explains the plants are in a state of low vigor and may have limited root systems. Loss of topsoil from previous cropping, and large spacing between grass plants is common, often resulting in low total forage production.

Consequently, Fick explains getting CRP ground up to grazing snuff can require water development and fencing.

“Fence off CRP that is adjacent to native rangeland,” Fick says. “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.” He adds that, if feasible, water developments should be positioned to encourage uniform grazing of the land.

As with haying, if the land has not been burned for a few years, Fick suggests prescribed burning. He explains, “Burning will not only get rid of old dead material, but should increase tillering and help the grass stand continue to develop.”

Moreover, bringing CRP ground back to grazing production may require a longer term grazing plan.

“A management strategy covering 2-4 years may be necessary to condition the plants to use,” Fick says. He recommends using a light stocking rate to allow good plant growth the first year, and then adjusting stocking rates in subsequent years based on stand development.

If you’ve got CRP contracts expiring this year, another option could be re-enrollment. Earlier this month, USDA announced it will extend the re-enrollment option on approximately 1.5 million acres of the 3.9 million acres expiring from the program this year.

According to USDA, voluntary extension for qualified participants begins May 18 and runs through June 30. The Farm Service Agency was to notify participants in writing by May 6.