It's important to know what herbicides have been sprayed in ditches (if any) for weed control, before harvesting for hay. Talk to landowners, or the appropriate county or township workers to determine what herbicides have been sprayed where. An article written by Krishona Martinson and Liz Stahl, Regional Extension Educators with University of Minnesota Extension, mentions there have been some instances of significant injury to soybeans as a result of manure application from livestock fed ditch hay that had been treated with picloram or clopyralid. Aminopyralid is another herbicide that can cause these issues. These herbicides are commonly used in roadsides because they kill noxious weeds such as leafy spurge, while not harming grasses. However, these herbicides pass quickly through animals without being degraded, and end up in manure via urine. The article suggests that manure containing these herbicides should only be applied on fields that will be planted to non-susceptible crops such as corn, small grains, or sorghum-sudan for 18 months following manure application. For more information, or to view this article visit http://z.umn.edu/ditchhay.
It's also important to note that on July 22nd, the USDA – Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced that Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres in 19 counties in Minnesota have been opened up for emergency haying and grazing, due to widespread issues with drowned out acres caused by this spring's excessive rainfall in those areas of the state. If ditch hay is not available, dairy farmers in these counties may be able to take advantage of CRP acres in their county as an option for grass hay for livestock. The 19 counties with CRP now available for haying and grazing are: Blue Earth, Carver, Dakota, Dodge, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Houston, Jackson, Le Sueur, Mower, Nicollet, Olmsted, Scott, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca and Winona. Remember that producers must contact their local FSA office before beginning any haying and grazing, and haying must be completed by August 31 (with all bales removed by September 15), while grazing must be completed by September 30th.
If baling ditch hay this summer, producers should remember to plan ahead and think safety. Do a walk-through of the ditch to remove garbage and locate obstructions and safety hazards, only use tractors with ROPS, and communicate with landowners, county or township workers to know what herbicides have been sprayed on ditches. With proper planning and preparation, ditch hay can be harvested safely and can provide an important feed option for local dairy producers.