A niche hay and straw market promises higher profits to Indiana and Illinois growers who keep noxious weeds out of bales.

By meeting qualifications of new state weed seed-free forage and mulch certification programs, the states' producers can show proof to buyers that their bales contain no noxious weeds.

“I've had calls from people who have been looking for hay that's free of weeds that are on this particular noxious weeds list,” says Keith Johnson, Purdue extension forage specialist. “The calls come from people wanting to trail ride in the national parks system.

“The other interest in this program has come from contractors wanting straw that would be noxious weed/troublesome plant seed-free and utilized for reducing erosion in highway construction.”

The Indiana Noxious Weed Seed-Free Forage and Mulch Certification Program was developed in cooperation with Purdue University. It's administered by the Indiana Crop Improvement Association (ICIA).

The Illinois Crop Improvement Association (ICIA), through the North American Weed Management Association (NAWMA), has a similar program.

For hay and straw to be certified noxious weed seed-free, the preharvested crop — and areas where it's stored — cannot contain the seed of 67 invasive weeds.

“If a designated area or field has none of those weeds at inspection, then within 10 days producers can harvest it and call it certified noxious weed seed-free,” says Joe DeFord, manager of Indiana ICIA programs. “The inspections happen every time there is a harvested crop.”

To get certification, Indiana growers must each pay a $500 lifetime ICIA membership fee, a $10 application fee, a $10 per field fee, $2.75 per acre for field inspection and a nominal charge for bale tags.

For more about Indiana's program, log on to www.indianacrop.org/weedfreeprogram.htm, call 866-899-2518 or email icia@indianacrop.org.

For more on the Illinois program, visit NAWMA's Web site at www.nawma.org, or contact Ryan Johnson at 217-359-4053 or rjohnson@ilcrop.com.