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Offseason Management of CRP
by Jacob Hawes, NRCS

As the harvest season is over and we have more time, landowners need to consider fall and winter management of lands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program or CRP. The next few months are an ideal time to begin scouting for weeds, trees, and shrubs that are beginning to sneak their way in. Although you may be required to burn or mow as part of your mid-contract management, these onetime practices alone often aren’t sufficient to remedy unwanted vegetation.

If you have waterways, buffers or filter strips in CRP, it is almost inevitable that at some point part of those seedings will be impacted by overspray or drift from herbicide applications to crops. Now these areas should be easier to access and should be scouted to see if any of these acres need reseeding. Telltale signs of herbicide impact is the lack of grass and typically an abundance of broadleaf weeds, such as giant ragweed, pigweed, velvet leaf, and thistles. If these areas are present, the landowner needs to reseed these areas next spring.

One of the biggest issues landowner’s have with managing whole fields in CRP is keeping trees out of their fields adjacent to timber. Taking care of these issues over the fall and winter allows you to manage for unwanted woody species without having to worry about interfering with the primary nesting season and allows for more targeted control of undesirable species.

Conifers and evergreens, such as red cedar, are typically the easiest to manage. In most cases, a chainsaw or loppers, if the tree is small enough, is adequate to kill those species without the use of a herbicide. Deciduous trees and shrubs such as box elder, poplars, willows, and multiflora rose require more management and often require the use of herbicide to effectively control. Mowing or burning typically are not effective treatment for these species, and typically only top kills the tree or shrub, leading to suckers or re-sprouts from the still viable roots.

Cut stump treatment is a particularly effective practice this time of year. This method requires you to cut the tree or shrub close to the ground and apply herbicide to the outer rings of the stump. With proper application, this method allows the herbicide to move to the roots of the plant and effectively kill it.

A number of commercial herbicides are available for this specific treatment. Just be sure to read and follow the label directions to verify the herbicide is labeled to control your target species with this particular treatment method.

After trees and shrubs have been cut down, it is important to remove them from your CRP fields. This could be done by hand or may require the use of larger equipment to skid the trees off the fields depending on the size of the tree. An additional advantage of doing these tasks this time of year is that the ground is typically frozen. This will save you the cost of reseeding these areas and prevent annoying ruts within your fields.

It almost never pays to have a “wait and see” attitude when it comes to managing your CRP. If left unchecked, these potential problem areas may become progressively worse and require much more aggressive management tactics to get them under control in the future.

Additionally, if the landowner plans to reenroll with CRP, problem areas with trees, shrubs, and weeds can lead to ineligibility for the affected acres.

Although these management practices may impart an additional expense, it is often in the best interest of the landowner to stay proactive in their management by quite literally nipping problem trees and shrubs in the bud to save them greatly on future labor and management costs on their CRP acres.