Farmers limited on set-aside land use

Mowing hay allowed for emergency feed, but restrictions apply

August 10, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Carroll County farmers who have land in a federal conservation program may mow hay on up to half of their land for emergency feed, but several restrictions apply, and they will have to give up 35 percent of the rent the government pays them to keep the land out of production.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture denied an emergency request to allow grazing on federal conservation land.

The limits have left local agency workers for the USDA's Farm Service Agency perplexed and frustrated that the farmers they serve weren't given more freedom during such severe drought.

"The conditions imposed are so stringent that I'm not sure who's going to be able to take advantage of this," said Susan Hardinger, a soil conservation program specialist at the Westminster office of the USDA.

Hardinger said any farmer who needs hay or who has conserved land that can be mowed for hay should call her office immediately to learn the steps to take, some of which might involve leasing haying rights to another farmer.

The Carroll office asked its headquarters to allow farmers to donate hay to each other, but that request was denied.

Instead, farmers will have to formally lease rights to another farmer to harvest the hay, Hardinger said.

"For the life of me, I can't figure it out," Hardinger said. "I don't know why they couldn't let farmers work out among themselves the best way to deal with this emergency."

She said one of the reasons the Carroll office made the request was that a local farmer who had land in the program called to find out whether he could mow the hay and donate it to his neighbor to feed cattle.

She said she and other workers in the Farm Service Agency will help farmers take advantage of the haying request, but the deadline is nearing. The hay has to be mowed by Aug. 31, and dried and baled by Oct. 1.

The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers a rent of about $80 an acre not to farm highly erodible or environmentally sensitive land. The farmer must plant a cover crop, such as grasses, that will also serve to shelter and feed wildlife.

The program has provisions for "emergency haying and grazing" if a county's normal rainfall is down by at least 40 percent and if officials at the county, state and federal levels approve.

Carroll's rainfall is 62 percent below normal, according to Kelly Hereth, who directs the county's Farm Service Agency.

"We're still in a primary nesting season for ground-nesting birds," Hardinger said. "They're there whether we have a drought or not. But we are in an emergency situation.

"Over 65 percent of our hay crop is gone," Hardinger said. "Most people had a good first cutting, but usually you have four cuttings."

The drought has dried up pastures. Cattle and sheep that normally graze on pastures most of the summer and early fall have been eating hay that farmers would have saved for winter.

As a result of the demand, the price of hay has increased, and farmers are spending thousands of dollars more than they usually do.

Carroll's Farm Service Agency made the emergency haying and grazing request to the USDA nearly two weeks ago, with approval from the state office of the USDA. The request was granted, after U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman visited a farm in Frederick County last week and talked with farmers there and from Carroll County.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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