Regulations now allow use of some Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) fields as pasture or hay periodically. But some advance thought work is needed to make the most of this opportunity, says Bruce Anderson in his Hay & Forage Minute newsletter.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln forage agronomist says that for years CRP could only be utilized in an emergency, and then it often was so late that little value was available. With restrictions loosened, Anderson says producers need to look at what kind of feed currently is available from most fields, then imagine what that will be like after July 15 when use can begin. In most cases, much old dead trash exists so yield of new green growth will be low, and 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 trash, promotes new green growth, and controls some weeds and trees, Andersons says. But before you burn, be sure you can burn both safely and legally.

Weed-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, visit your local Extension office to review the options.

He says that most CRP fields have had no fertilizer for many years. As a result, yields often increase nicely when nitrogen, and sometimes phosphorus, fertilizers are applied.

“I wouldn’t spend money on fertilizer though, until you have removed the old, dead growth and have controlled most of the weeds,” Anderson says. “Think ahead. Can hay or pasture from your CRP fields improve your livestock program? Then take care of it so it can work for you.”
-- Bruce Anderson, UNL – Hay & Forage Minute