As CRP contracts expire, some landowners are considering what needs to be done to transition the acres into a productive grazing or haying enterprise. If no removal of plant material has occurred for five or more years, plants have a limited root system and low vigor. Tall grasses produce large amounts of standing dead material and shade young plants that try to grow. Many stands are thin with large areas of bare ground between plants.

Increasing plant density and vigor is the first step to improving the stand for use as pasture or hay. Spring burning is an effective method of removing the standing dead material and mulch to allow sunlight to reach the crown of the plant. If allowed to remain, previous years forage growth will dilute the diet of grazing animals and suppress growth of young plants. Burning will also help control undesirable plants such as the eastern redcedar. Your local county extension office has materials about controlled burning and can help you find burn contractors or burn schools in your area.

Mowing or haying in March or April is another method to remove litter, although hay removed at this point would be relatively low in protein and energy. A three year study compared spring burning or spring mowing in year one to non- treated CRP. Stocker performance increased 6% to 38% after spring burning compared to no treatment. Average daily gain for stockers on the mowed plots was 2% to 5% more than controls.

Since burning and mowing won’t fit all situations other options should be considered. CRP acres could be used as a calving pasture and would provide plenty of bedding and clean ground. Lactating cows would need supplementation to meet both protein and energy needs.

Extreme grazing, known as “flogging” in the graziers glossary, has a goal of leaving little residual forage. It is achieved by using a very heavy stocking for a short period of time (80 - 100 cows per acre for one to seven days). This results in trampling the dead litter into the soil and opening up new areas for seedlings and tillers. Temporary electric fencing is often needed to concentrate animals in a smaller area and then allow movement to the next section. If grazed as early as allowed in the fall, nutrient content will be relatively higher, reducing supplement needs.

Other limiting factors in CRP productivity are undesirable weeds and brush.

These problems may be best addressed while still under contract since herbicide options are broader for CRP than for use for hay or grazing.

Just like anything that hasn’t been used for awhile, CRP grass stands need some type of rejuvenation to make them more productive. Individual pasture conditions will help determine if burning, mowing or grazing is the best technique to employ.

For more detailed information, see the recording of a webinar on converting CRP to pasture or crop land online at http://www.heartlandwq.iastate.edu/Bioenergy/WEbcasts/Archives/SEpt+15.htm

Source: Sandy Johnson, Kansas State University Extension