Wisconsin producers can plant crops on their highly erodible land (HEL) after last year’s drought and the harsh winter wreaked havoc on the state’s hayfields.

The state’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office has lifted restrictions for growers who have conservation plans for their HEL land with the agency. Typically, those with plans must limit tillage or utilize high-residue-producing crops as a way to help control soil erosion.

“There is a variance for weather-related happenings, and obviously the widespread winterkill in hay is a weather-related event,” says Patrick Murphy, state resource conservationist with Wisconsin NRCS.

Producers should get in contact with local NRCS offices, once they have recovered from this year’s loss, to revise their conservation plans for self-certified conservation systems to protect against erosion, Murphy adds.

The NRCS move comes as the Upper Midwest is dealing with some of the worst winterkill in years.

Around 75% of alfalfa in stretches of northern Wisconsin has been winterkilled, says Dan Undersander, University of Wisconsin Extension forage specialist. It’s better in the Madison area, but up to 30% shows severe winterkill.

“At this point, I estimate more than 1 million acres are affected in Wisconsin,” Undersander says. “In Minnesota and the Dakotas, it could be another 0.75 million to 1 million acres.”

The southern third of Minnesota has been hit hardest, running as far north as the Twin Cities and down to the Iowa border. Some areas in that region are close to 100% affected by winterkill, says Craig Sheaffer, University of Minnesota forage agronomist.

“I think the effects are largely due to ice sheeting,” he adds.

The Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota are conducting a survey of growers who have winterkill, and Sheaffer adds he will have a better grasp of the scope of winterkill damage once the survey results are analyzed.

Winterkill damage and the late spring are putting stress on some producers, who were already running short on forage when they anticipated an early June first cutting. With that pushed back one to two weeks, the problem will only get worse, says Undersander.

“At least 20% of farmers tell me they’ll run out of feed before (a June 1) first cutting,” he says. “Now more people are going to run out of feed and to a larger extent.”

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