ISSUE 15   September 13, 2007


With the crop prices at high levels and demand for more crop land acres increasing producers are wondering if they should bring back into production some of the acres that are presently in the conservation reserve program (CRP). Reduction of soil erosion of CRP land has been documented and usually there has been an increase of soil organic matter in fields in the conservation program. Within the first few years after tilling CRP grasslands, organic matter will decrease rapidly. Producers bringing CRP acres back into production should minimize soil erosion and protect the improved soil characteristics which were gained during the period the parcel was in CRP.

Some general recommendations:

  • Bring back into production only land that is not highly erodible. Some parcels are more suitable for crop production than others. Consider leaving sensitive areas around stream, ponds, and wetlands in CRP or designate them as grazing or haying land.
  • Before bringing a piece back into cultivation evaluate the present weed species and where they are as they may influence cropping plans. It is important to control perennial weed species.
  • Consider the growth of the plants in the current CRP field. If there is a lot of residue on the land, grazing, haying, or mowing will remove excess plant material. After the plants start to re-grow a burndown herbicide can be used to kill the vegetation.
  • When mowing use a shredder which will cut up and distribute the residue. Other pieces of machinery may concentrate residue.
  • If there is sweetclover growing in CRP acres and hay is produced there is risk that if the hay becomes moldy, the sweetclover may produce dicumerol. Dicumerol can cause abortions and bleeding in cows if toxic doses are ingested.
  • Fall application of a glyphosate containing herbicide may provide better burndown than spring application. It is important to have complete coverage when the grass is actively growing.
  • Burning with fire is not recommended as this will not kill the grass and will not reduce the mat of residue near the soil surface.
  • To maintain some cover and residue benefits (less erosion) no till may be a choice. Row cleaners could be used to move residue from the rows.
  • If tillage is used large amounts of partially incorporated residue may cause problems during the spring field operations and the establishment of the newly seeded crop.
  • Make sure soil samples are taken and fertilizer applied according to the test results.
  • In summary, it will take planning and time to get a parcel currently in CRP back into agricultural production.

    Hans Kandel
    Extension Agronomist Broadleaf Crops

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