USDA announced on September 6 a decision to give some Iowa farmers more time to take advantage of emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program acres in the state because of worsening drought conditions. Continued hot, dry weather has dried up pastures in a large section of Iowa and made it hard for some livestock producers to find enough forage to feed their animals. They would rather not feed what hay they've baled this summer because then they will run short next winter. They want to bale CRP hay and feed it now to supplement parched pastures.
As a result of this latest USDA decision, farmers in 35 counties in Iowa now have through September 20 to harvest hay from CRP acres. For more information and to find out which counties are designated for emergency haying, go to the FSA website or contact your local FSA office. FSA officials emphasize that you need to notify your local office to get permission before mowing or harvesting anything from CRP land.
USDA officials in Washington initially gave permission on August 29 that farmers in 35 counties in Iowa could use CRP acres for emergency haying and grazing—for three days only—August 29, 30 and 31. Farmers with dried-up pastures who wanted access to the CRP forage complained that wasn't enough time to get the hay made or to get fences up for grazing. Their complaints were heard by John Whitaker, state director for USDA's Farm Service Agency in Iowa, and he forwarded those concerns to USDA officials in Washington, D.C.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
USDA officials in Washington also heard from Iowa's two U.S. Senators, Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin. They sent a letter on September 5 to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, letting him know that USDA didn't give farmers enough time to mow and harvest any meaningful amount of hay from the CRP acres.
Livestock producers are dealing with a second year of drought conditions and severely reduced forage supplies
The two Iowa lawmakers said in their September 5 letter to Secretary Vilsack:
"As the former governor of Iowa, you certainly understand the importance of livestock production to our state and share our concern for Iowa livestock producers as they deal with a second year of drought conditions that have severely strained forage supplies," wrote Grassley and Harkin. "That unreasonably short time frame prevented many farmers from baling any hay under the emergency CRP release. Therefore, these producers did not get the benefit from CRP access that should have helped mitigate the short supply of hay for the upcoming winter."
USDA officials say they realized the timing when the emergency haying and grazing was granted was a unique circumstance for farmers in these 35 counties in Iowa. The department soon began working within FSA and with congressional offices to find a solution to the rules which prevented a longer period from being allowed. They found a solution and announced that starting September 6 haying opportunities would be extended for 15 days in these counties. That means these farmers can harvest hay through the end of the day on September 20.
Nearly a third of Iowa is rated as being in severe drought, and that will increase this week if rain doesn't arrive soon
The Conservation Reserve Program was created in 1985 and pays landowners an annual rent amount to idle environmentally fragile land for 10 to 15 years. The contracts can be renewed. In exchange for seeding down this land to grass or planting trees on it instead of row crops, farmers get a yearly rental payment from USDA. Farmers enrolled in the CRP program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant grass or trees that will control erosion and improve environmental health and water quality.~~~PAGE_BREAK_HERE~~~
There are more than 26.9 million acres enrolled in the CRP through 700,000 contracts in the United States, according to USDA's most recently released numbers. Currently, about 60,000 acres in Iowa are enrolled in the program. Iowa bounced back from last year's drought, thanks to a wet spring in 2013. But this summer turned dry and continuing hot, dry conditions have worsened the pasture and hay crop situation.
Farmers in driest areas have started chopping corn for silage; a few have started harvesting droughty corn for grain; some aflatoxin is reported
Nearly a third of Iowa was rated as being in severe drought as of Tuesday September 3, compared with 25% of the state a week earlier and zero percent as of June 4. That's according to the national drought monitor map, which is published each week by the National Weather Service. Iowa's crops—corn, soybeans, hay and pasture—have suffered under the recent weather.
USDA's weekly Iowa Crops & Weather survey report released September 3 showed the portion of the state's corn, soybean and hay crops affected by the expanding drought had increased. Corn condition was reported at 23% very poor, 32% poor and 32% fair and only 13% good. Soybeans were 13% very poor, 24% poor, 40% fair and only 21% good. Pasture rated 51% very poor, 29% poor, 17% fair and only 3% good.
With rapid maturation of Iowa's drought damaged corn crop, farmers in those areas of the state began chopping corn for silage last week and a few began harvesting corn for grain. Some of the farmers who are harvesting corn for grain are also baling stalks. A few reports of aflatoxin are being reported.