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Alternatives to hay growing for ranchers

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 3:59 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - We’ve heard a lot about ranchers’ concerns over feed stocks. Ranchers have been forced to sell their cows just to afford however many they can keep.

Now that harvest season is in high gear, many are finding new sources of food to take stress off the fields.

To get cattle through the winter, farmers start building stockpiles as early as the spring. But, the drought made it nearly impossible for many to grow anything.

What some had to do to make the crops grow now isn’t healthy to eat.

Last winter, farmers were preparing their fields by putting down fertilizer. That fertilizer has a chemical called nitrate in it. If the nitrate levels aren’t lowered by rain over time, they can be poisonous to water, the land and cattle.

“All the stand grass we seeded last spring for hay is coming in with tremendous gastric problems. And while we’ve gotten a little extra feed, we don’t know what to do with it now,” said Larry Kinev, Independent Beef Association of North Dakota.

This has put ranchers in a deeper hole than they were already in.

Hay had its growth stunted, and harvesting scraps will be tough enough. So what else can they turn to besides hay?

“As we get into corn harvest, I see some other opportunities for once that corn’s been combined, that stover can be bailed up. I’ve already sold 85% of my corn crop, said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

But, those crops might have high nitrate levels as well. Ag leaders are imploring farmers to have their crops tested with their local extension agents to ensure a safe crop.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency recently announced it will be allowing up to 60% of a rancher’s transportation costs for feed to be compensated by the end of the year.

However, there are some concerns over insect and invasive species getting into the state as a result. But FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said there are cost-sharing elements to the program to help with any health effects to cattle.

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