USDA: Forage, hay availability fears prompt cover crop rules change

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/PrairieArtProject
© GettyImages/PrairieArtProject

Related tags: Feed ingredients, Usda

Wet weather and delayed planting are raising fears about forage and hay availability for US livestock and dairy producers and sparking the US Department of Agriculture to change when cover crops can be harvested or grazed on prevented planting acres.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) released details​ about the changes to hay and forage use of cover crops on select acres Thursday [June 20]. The shift followed a push from producers and feed production and planting related disaster declaration requests from some Corn Belt states.

Preventedplant​ refers to provisions in a crop insurance policy that provides coverage when extreme weather conditions means that acres cannot be planted in the insured crop during a set window.

Previously, producers who turned to cover crops to protect the soil on acres that they were unable to plant with a feed or food crop had to wait until November to “hay, graze or chop” ​those areas, the USDA said. However, this year the waiting period was shortened to September 1.

The shift in timing was intended as a support to producers who “were prevented from planting because of flooding and excess rainfall this spring,”​ the department said.

Feed crop producers and farmers saw challenges from the weather this year including from excessive spring rains and flooding, Bill Northey, undersecretary for farm production and conservation, said in a release about the change in procedure.

The one-year adjustment was intended to help farmers with the decisions they have to make regarding planting and production.  

“This change will make good stewardship of the land easier to accomplish while also providing an opportunity to ensure quality forage is available for livestock this fall,”​ he added.

Rule change implications, crop damage concerns 

However, the changes are only in place for 2019, said Martin Barbre, administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA). RMA will evaluate the prudence of a permanent adjustment moving forward,”​ he added.

The shift also means that “silage, haylage and baleage”​ will be handled in the same way as “haying and grazing,” ​the USDA said. Producers can hay, graze or cut cover crops for silage, haylage or baleage on prevented plant acres on or after September 1 and still maintain eligibility for their full 2019 prevented planting indemnity,”​ the department added.

Across the US there had been some questions raised about challenges to forage production in some Corn Belt states like Ohio and Michigan. Earlier this month, both states requested disaster declarations from the USDA regarding feed crop production and planting.

Feed producers in Ohio saw damage to established alfalfa fields and ongoing rain is both limiting harvest of surviving forages and potentially damaging those feeds, reported Ohio State University Extension.

In Ohio, the state-wide request focused on the damage from spring rain and anticipated production loss, said Mike DeWine, governor of Ohio in his request letter​.

“The harsh reality for Ohio farmers it that many acres will remain unplanted,” he said. “In addition, our dairy and livestock sectors face a serious forage and feed shortage due to hay winterkill and the inability to harvest hay due to excessive rain. The inability to plant spring crops will further complicate this matter.”

Feed producers in Ohio saw damage to established alfalfa fields and ongoing rain is both limiting harvest of surviving forages and potentially damaging those feeds, reported Ohio State University Extension.

In Michigan, the declaration would apply to the whole state and was prompted by the ongoing weather, according to the request letter​ from Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan. The state is experiencing its third wettest year on record, which has delayed both planting and hay cutting.

“In addition to the prevented and late planting, many of our livestock producers have been unable to harvest the hay they need to sustain them through next winter,” ​she said. “In many cases, they have lost one or event two complete cuttings, which is exacerbated by the low hay stocks coming into the year.”

Industry, producer responses

The change in cover crop use and timing was welcomed by several industry organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The change in date regarding the use of prevented planting acres provides more flexibility to farmers and ranchers, said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Our farmers who were prevented from planting because of flooding and excess rainfall this spring will now have the opportunity to hay, graze or cut cover crops for silage, haylage and baleage,” ​he said. “This is an incredibly important change to ensure livestock producers have the necessary feed to properly care for their animals throughout the rest of this year.”

 

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