Today, there's little market potential for certified noxious weed-seed-free hay in the Midwest. It's something that certifying agencies hope will change soon.

Certified straw, however, is a niche showing increasing demand – especially in a state with an established certified noxious weed program and a transportation department that supports it. So says Ben Lang, soon-to-be president/CEO of the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association, that state's noxious weed-seed-free forage and mulch certification agency.

"In Minnesota, certified noxious weed-seed-free hay has been sold primarily to trail riders who take their horses to the Western U.S., where it (certified hay) has been required. That market is pretty limited," Lang says. "Most of what we certify under that program is actually straw mulch."

"There is a real strong market for (certified weed-seed-free) straw mulch within the state because Mn/DOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) is requiring it on its roadside projects for revegetative use. Other state and federal agencies are beginning to require it on their own revegetative projects," he adds.

Mn/DOT has been supportive of the program from the beginning, Lang says. "It sees its value. When noxious weeds are established in road ditches, it becomes Mn/DOT’s job to control them and that would be very expensive. And in using chemicals, there's liability associated with that and spray-drift issues – all those things it has to deal with once noxious weeds are out there and have to be controlled."

Essentially, such a program certifies that hay or straw is harvested before seeds form on the noxious weeds harvested with the crop. It does not imply that the forage or straw is weed-free; instead, it ensures that the weeds won't spread seeds and propagate, says Keith Johnson, Purdue University forage agronomist. Certification programs vary, but usually involve a membership fee and certification fees when inspectors visit fields prior to any harvests. A three-cutting field would have to receive certification before each of those three cuttings. Storage is also viewed before a crop is certified, he says.

Some hay growers have been approached by horse owners looking to buy weed-seed-free hay. That’s because national parks are beginning to require such hay on park trail rides to prevent weeds from spreading.

But Indiana, which established its own certified weed-seed-free forage and mulch program three years ago, has no hay growers utilizing it, says Johnson.

"The program has been built, but the need hasn’t been expressed to the point to get forage and straw producers to really latch onto this. And that seems to be more of a regional issue and not just Indiana alone," he says. At a recent regional meeting, organizers concurred that they need to go to trail associations, national and state parks, state highway departments and others in an attempt develop markets for certified hay and straw.

Randy Judd of the Michigan Crop Improvement Association says only one person may harvest a certified weed-seed-free crop in Michigan this year. And he’ll harvest straw. Judd believes, however, that there is potential for certified hay as more state parks and other public lands are requiring its use.

For more information on certified noxious weed-seed-free programs, visit www.hayandforage.com/.