We’re facing a forage shortage, and a coalition of farm groups have urged the USDA to take action to prevent it. They’re hoping for more flexibility from the USDA on prevented plant acres, and a bill was introduced last week that could do just that.
An Unusual Year
Nicole Heslip of Brownfield Ag News reports that farm groups from multiple states have come together to urge the USDA to address feed and forage shortages. Ernie Birchmeier with the Michigan Farm Bureau says this is a very unusual year- we haven’t ever really seen this kind of thing happen before. Even though regional hay shortages are fairly common occurrences, this year appears to be different. It’s estimated that more than 80% of Wisconsin alfalfa has winter kill damage, and it’s the same thing in many other states.
“The extreme rain conditions have not allowed farmers to get in and harvest what forage is there.”
If some sort of provisions don’t become available, many may be forced to sell their cows.
Farm groups are hoping that their concern will be heard and acted upon by the USDA. They are asking for a one-time allowance to plant and harvest on prevented plant acres, no date restrictions, and harvesting on conservation land.
Russ Quinn of DTNPF says that the coalition of Ag groups submitted their request to USDA Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue to try and prevent a,
“Rapidly emerging forage crisis for livestock farmers across the Midwest.”
Two weather related events have had an impact on forage this year. There was a winterkill of alfalfa in the upper Midwest and then record-breaking rainfall. The rain has prevented the alfalfa harvest that was there, and also prevented the planting of corn and soybeans.
As they stand now, the rules for prevented planting acres stipulate that cover crops planted on those acres can’t be harvested until November 1. If farmers graze or harvest those cover crops before that date they risk their prevented planting payment to drop to 35% of the original amount.
The date requirement is impractical because November 1 is after the typical killing frost date in that region. Many of the prevented plant acres are near livestock farms, and the land could be planted for forages for livestock feed. But quick action needs to be taken to avert a crisis.
Prevented Planting Flexibility
If action isn’t taken, Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte says there may not be enough forage for dairy cattle to last through next winter. Larry Lee of Brownfield Ag News says that Holte is hoping the USDA can be flexible on their policy.
“We need some understanding and modification in some of the rules in prevented planting so we can avoid some of those disastrous situations.”
Morning Ag Clips announced that a federal bill was introduced this week that would allow the early harvest of cover crops in the USDA’s prevented planting program. The Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters Act (FEEDD) would allow temporary flexibility in regulations to help alleviate livestock feed concerns caused by the poor weather this spring.
US Representatives Dusty Johnson, (R-SD), and Angie Craig (D-MN) announced the proposed bill a week ago. Basically the bill would give the USDA Secretary the ability to provide a waiver to allow haying, grazing or chopping of a cover crop before November 1. This authority could be used in feed shortage situations due to weather. This would help farmers avoid further discounts on crop insurance.
Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative Reacts
Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, one of the largest in the US, put out a statement shortly after the bill was announced. Many of its members have been directly affected by this spring’s poor weather. A portion of it read,
Edge’s policy team has been raising the issue with lawmakers and agencies in recent weeks as an option for members in need of additional livestock feed. Under current rules, farmers cannot utilize cover crops before Nov. 1 if they choose to receive the prevented planting indemnity.
Switch From Grain to Forage
Larry Lee of Brownfield Ag News reports the advice from several Wisconsin experts about switching from grain to forage. They believe it’s an option to at least consider. With all of the issues with planting this year, economist Paul Mitchell says dairy farmers could look into a forage crop and take a smaller prevent plant payment, or plant corn or soybeans. But it’s getting late in the season to plant corn, and soybean prices are low.
Another option is alfalfa, says Mitchell.
“So, you get the full 55% of your guarantee for corn or 60% for soybeans, and then establish an alfalfa crop. You can’t harvest it or anything until after November 1st which is not like a real harvest date. No one is going to do that. And then next spring, you’ve got an alfalfa crop ready to go.”
Agronomist Joe Lauer says that sorghum-sudangrass and corn forage are other good options.
“You can plant and hit the first silage peak of corn silage, and that peak is right around the silking or flowering stage of corn and you can actually have pretty good quality with some long-season corn hybrids.” Lauer says yields have ranged from 4-6 tons per acre in this situation.