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Be aware of compliance issues when haying and grazing CRP

With the drought conditions that are pervasive throughout the upper Midwest, there are several federal government programs and laws that are intended to assist farmers who are affected by the drought. But farmers need to beware of legal traps and compliance issues that arise from using these programs. Even the most inadvertent violation of a federal program can be costly to remedy.

One program that has been in the news is the federal authorization of emergency haying of Conservation Reserve Program land. Several counties have been approved for this emergency haying, and the producer will not have a payment reduction for this emergency use.

However, it is important for producers to understand the rules of this emergency haying. As a practical matter, the initial concern is how to bring together the CRP participants who have available haying land and the livestock producers who have a need for this hay. The CRP participants are instructed to determine which fields they desire to hay and then to contact the local FSA office with the legal descriptions. The local FSA office must, as an initial matter, make a determination as to whether the field is eligible for emergency haying and to notify the producer accordingly.

On the other hand, livestock producers are instructed by FSA to contact CRP participants directly to determine if the producer wishes to hay any of their CRP. If the answer is yes, then the livestock producer is encouraged to contact the FSA with the legal description of the land to determine if the acreage is haying eligible.

In order to be haying eligible, the CRP must only be a specific "practice." Contact your local FSA office to see which practices are eligible in your county. Also, please note that any field of CRP — or contiguous field of CRP — is only eligible for 50 percent of it to be hayed. Don't exceed the 50% rule, and err on the side of caution.

Although there is no payment reduction to the producer, the federal government does require that the producer not receive a windfall for the haying. In other words, the federal government forbids the selling of the hay. The producer may either hay the acreage or grant a livestock producer the use of the hay.

Finally, and most importantly, in spite of the somewhat clumsy process for connecting CRP producers and livestock producers, it is paramount that all haying requests are submitted and signed by the CRP producer and the livestock producer and final approval is received for such haying before haying can begin.

I've spoken to some FSA offices throughout North Dakota, and several of these offices have backlogs of requests already. Be prepared for the process to take some time before final approval is received. However, haying is eligible to begin immediately, if final approval is granted.

A different practice is emergency grazing of CRP acres. The federal government authorized emergency grazing of CRP in eligible drought-stricken counties in some states. The original authorization has now been expanded to counties within 150 miles of a drought-stricken county. So all counties in North Dakota are eligible.

With emergency grazing, the authorization is again limited only to specific practices. And CRP producers may use the acreage themselves or may grant the use to a livestock producer. Although there is no payment reduction to the CRP producer, it is imperative that 25 percent of the acres remain ungrazed. Formal application for grazing must be made by both parties, and the grazing request must be approved, as well as the conservation plan modification, before grazing may begin. Don't jump the gun on this, folks. Get formal approval before beginning grazing. Grazing must be complete by Sept. 30, 2017.

One more thing: Even if your CRP isn't eligible for emergency grazing, it might be eligible for grazing under other provisions after Aug. 2. Check with your local FSA office if you have questions about this practice.