By DOUG SCHMITZ
GARNER, Iowa — When USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently approved the early grazing and haying of cover crops on prevented-planting acres, it came as a huge relief to the eight Iowa farm, lending and wildlife groups who originally requested the Nov. 1 waiver.
“A historic drought for Iowa during the summer of 2012 and now the wettest spring on record are driving this request,” said Ed Greiman, a Garner farmer and president of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Assoc. “As cattlemen and other livestock producers work through already-tight feed and forage supplies, both feedlot and cow-calf producers will have to manage limited forage stocks and potentially prepare for herd liquidation due to availability concerns.”
In a joint letter in June, representatives of the nine groups told Vilsack if cover crops on those acres are harvested before Nov. 1, Iowa farmers’ prevented-planting payment would be reduced to 35 percent of the production guarantee.
Among the other groups signing the letter were Farm Credit Services of America, Iowa Bankers Assoc., Iowa Corn Growers Assoc., Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Soybean Assoc., Iowa State Dairy Assoc. and the National Wildlife Federation.
Current acres enrolled in the federal crop insurance program can be planted to cover crops, but waiting until after Nov. 1 to harvest those is risky because of weather and the loss of the prime nutrition available from the cover, Greiman said.
“If the secretary will waive that November 1 date, Iowa livestock producers will have assurance that they will have access to forage in a timely manner, and it will incent protection of cropped acres through the use of cover crops,” Greiman said at the time.
While most Iowa farm groups signed the letter, the Iowa Pork Producers Assoc. (IPPA) declined. Although the IPPA considered signing on, Ron Birkenholz, communications director, said a waiver “should help lessen demand for corn and soybeans for monogastrics, which could help all livestock producers.”
Clarke McGrath, Iowa State University extension field agronomist and partner program manager at the Iowa Corn & Soybean Initiative, said from an agronomy standpoint, much fieldwork can be done prior to Nov 1 now that the waiver has been granted, such as soil sampling, fertilizer applications, drainage work, fall tillage and waterway shaping.
“(It) would be nice for growers and retailers to have the option to be in the field when it is fit, rather than having to wait until November 1 as well,” he said. “So, while just a cursory overview of the situation and now being privy to some of the inside information that the crop insurance companies have, it would make sense to work with the local growers and ag service providers to find a more workable time frame than a November 1 calendar date.
McGrath said the USDA should “let the growers do what is in their best interests, as long as it doesn’t run counter to environmental stewardship.
“If the wildlife groups are on board, one can guess that allowing the waiver wouldn’t negatively impact wildlife,” he said. “From an economics standpoint, if there is value in forage for grazing or hay prior to November 1, guys ought to be able to utilize it. I don’t know about over there, but over here, we need the hay.
“We’ve had two tough years back-to-back with hay and pasture, so we can empathize and see why these guys want to access the forage when it makes sense, rather than at some arbitrary calendar date. By November 1, cold weather, rain, snow, frost and the end of the growing season could really reduce the tonnage and quality of many of the plants used on the prevented-planting acres.”