Groups Push for Forage Options

Midwest Farm Bureaus Want Forage Changes on Prevented Planting and CRP Acres

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Farmers are concerned they may run out of forage options for cattle. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Becky Mills)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A multi-state coalition of agricultural organizations are seeking approval for emergency provisions allowing the planting and harvesting of forages on prevented planting acres without date restrictions, according to a news release from the Michigan Farm Bureau.

The written request, submitted Thursday to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, is to fend off a "rapidly emerging forage crisis for livestock farmers across the Midwest," the organizations stated.

The request was made by farm bureaus in Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio. The Michigan Cattlemen's Association, Dairy Farmers of America and Michigan Milk Producers Association are also joining the appeal.

Two weather-related extremes damaged much forage in the region this spring. Severe winterkill of alfalfa fields through the upper Midwest followed by the record-breaking rainfall this spring has prevented the planting of corn and soybeans, but also the timely harvest of alfalfa fields that did manage to survive.

Under current rules, a farmer who filed a prevented-planting claim can plant a forage or cover crop, but cannot harvest or graze those acres until after Nov. 1. Producers who graze or cut their crop for hay before Nov. 1 risk seeing their prevented-planting payment reduced to just 35% of the potential value.

DTN wrote about the condition of forage this spring, including the extreme winterkill in some locations. See the article at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

"Our dairy and livestock farmers are reporting a very serious forage and feed shortage for this year," said Ernie Birchmeier, Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) livestock specialist. "We understand that portions of Michigan and Wisconsin have severe winterkill damage -- as high as 80%, depending on location."

The loss of alfalfa forage and quality is compounded by concerns that delayed corn planting will take a heavy toll on corn silage tonnage this fall, Birchmeier said. The delays in corn planting is only making a bad situation worse, he said.

While the current prevented-planting provisions do allow planting and harvesting of potential forage crops, those provisions come with some impractical date requirements, according to the release. Timely planting is difficult with a date of Aug. 1, and the harvest date restriction of Nov. 1 is long after the typical killing frost date in the upper Midwest.

John Kran, MFB national legislative counsel, said the request specifically seeks immediate provisions to allow planting, normal harvest and grazing of forage crops and cover crops on prevented-planting acres for 2019 without penalty and without date restrictions. In addition, the groups want harvest and grazing of forages on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) ground and all eligible acres for 2019 without penalty and date restrictions.

"Many of those same farms that lost or can't harvest their alfalfa due to excessive rain also can't plant corn for silage, and many of those acres will likely be prevented plant as well," Kran said.

"Many of those prevented-plant crop acres are adjacent to livestock farms and could be planted to alternative forages for harvest as livestock feed, but quick administrative action is needed to allow this to happen."

Kran said the organizations are not asking for a permanent change to the prevented-planting provision but simply a one-time allowance due to the unprecedented weather challenges dairy and livestock farmers are facing across the country along with cash-crop farming operations in 2019.

Birchmeier said many dairy farmers have indicated that unless emergency provisions are made in the next 30 days, many could be forced to sell cows. This is not an isolated incident in the region and, in fact, the forage and feed crisis is considered unprecedented, he said.

"For many farmers, this decision will be the deciding factor of whether their multi-generational family farm continues," Birchmeier said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn