How drought victims can use ND's 1.4M acres of CRP land to find relief

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Harvest crews are in northeast North Dakota this weekend to take emergency Conservation Reserve Program hay, though some haying on CRP lands won't happen until the first week of August.
Miranda Meehan, right, and Carl Dahlen, North Dakota State University Extension Service livestock specialists in the Animal Sciences Department in Hultz Hall in Fargo, have turned nearly all of their attention to drought information and relief. Mikkel Pates / Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Harvest crews are in northeast North Dakota this weekend to take emergency Conservation Reserve Program hay, though some haying on CRP lands won’t happen until the first week of August.

Adam Wanner, a Golden Valley, N.D., rancher, has been working with two other ranchers to make contacts in the east and plans to travel 230 miles to cut hay in the land idling program, starting Aug. 2. It's a difficult challenge to make the harvest stops close enough together to make transportation practical.

The Wanners have a 600-head commercial cow-calf operation. He will probably sell 150 to 200 cows in the fall because of hay shortages. He usually puts up 3,000 large round bales and this year has made only 71.

"For the most part people have been real great about wanting you to cut their CRP," Wanner says.

The western ranchers want to make sure the hay doesn't include leafy spurge and other noxious weeds. Wanner also says there have been instances where they've made deals to reimburse contract-holders for reduced CRP payments only to find that "hay jockeys" have stepped in. “Hay jockeys” are people without many cows, buying up hay by the bale or the acre just to make a profit selling it at a premium to the drought victims.


Paul Sproule, a farmer from Grand Forks, says he's been working two weeks to gather CRP cooperators for drought victims. Grand Forks County has about 73,000 acres of CRP. Not all of it can be cut and Sproule - who heads his own substantial farming enterprise - has been scouting it out to help match up needs.

"We went through a disaster in 1997," Sproule says, when asked why he's making the effort. "We had a lot of goodwill come to Grand Forks."

James "Jay" Hochhalter, a state conservation and livestock program specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency in Fargo, says emergency CRP haying and grazing is available throughout the state, but there will be no official reports on how much is used until October or November.

Emergency haying allows harvesting only half of a particular contract - leaving the rest standing. Emergency haying participants don't lose their annual CRP payment, but the hay can't be sold - only donated or used by themselves. If they use the emergency option they must  wait three years to hay the acres under "managed" haying.

Under "managed" haying rules, farmers can hay once every three years, while contract holders must wait until Aug. 2 to cut the hay.

On July 20, FSA freed up about 500,000 acres of wetland restoration practices under CRP. Most of those are in the Prairie Pothole region north and east of the Missouri River. About 900,000 acres had been eligible prior to that, Hochhalter says. Now, only about 100,000 acres are ineligible.

Carl Dahlen, an NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist in Fargo, says the drought "has moved from a bit periphery to almost all-consuming" for extension staffers as they try to help with everything from cattle-feeding research to how families can make a getaway plan and kit in case of wildfires.

Farmer-ranchers are shifting from harvesting cereal grains to how to chop or bale crops like corn, and even sunflower, canola or flax.


"We need feed not only to get us through the winter like we historically do, but we have to figure out how to feed our cattle all the way through next spring," Dahlen says.

Forage prices have gone up significantly over the past several months. Grains, energy sources or byproduct feeds like distillers grains are priced cheaper than buying additional forages.

"Then it comes to the management strategies for putting high-energy feeds into our cow diets when we're used to managing our cows on forages or grazing throughout the summer,"  Dahlen says.

For information on the drought, go to or .

The North Dakota Farm Bureau Foundation on July 18 announced a drought relief effort for North Dakota farmers and ranchers affected by the drought. Visit before Aug. 15 or call 701-225-0330 for more information. Hay, transportation of feed and money are among the needs.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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