There is a lot of interest in haying or grazing a cover crop planted on prevented planting acres. This is mostly the result of projected lower yielding 2020 hay production due to a late freeze and current dry conditions. There are a few things that need to be considered.
First, let’s cover the rules. The current rule states that no haying or grazing is permitted on prevented planting acres before Nov. 1. At this time, the USDA Risk Management Agency has no plans to change that date, so haying or grazing cover crops before Nov. 1 will significantly impact prevented planting insurance payments. If the prevented planting acreage is utilized for haying and grazing prior to Nov. 1, there will be a 65% reduction in the crop insurance indemnity payment.
There are some challenges with a late season grazing or haying goal, because the quality of most cover crops seeded mid-summer on prevented planting could be reduced by the Nov. 1 date. That’s why they have the Nov. 1 date — to avoid making money in addition to the prevented planting payment. However, given the shortage of forage in 2020, designing a mix that has the best chance of achieving grazing or haying goals late season is desirable.
Brassicas (like radish, turnip, rapeseed, kale) are a good option for late season grazing because of their high quality and ability to tolerate killing frosts. Including them in a mix with other cool-season grasses (oats, barley, cereal rye, triticale), a warm season grass like foxtail millet, broadleaf plants (sunflowers, buckwheat) and a legume (for example forage peas) is a good fit. Be sure to keep brassicas to less than 50% of the mix to avoid digestive issues and introduce livestock slowly to the cover crop mix. Seed this mix before Aug. 15 to be cost effective in tonnage produced relative to the cost of the seed.
If you want to hay the prevented planting after Nov. 1, the ability of the plants in the mix to dry down sufficiently is the primary consideration for high-quality hay. Select high-fiber species with small stem, like cool season grasses (oats, barley, triticale), warm season grasses (foxtail millet), and legumes (forage peas are a great option).