Today is the last day that farmers can apply for the state's emergency hay harvest on wildlife management areas.
Punishing weather conditions reduced Minnesota's alfalfa crop this year by approximately 750,000 acres. In response, Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made some of the state's DNR-controlled land available for an emergency hay harvest.
There are 922 acres available on 43 wildlife management areas said Bob Welsh, a DNR habitat program manager. The sites are scattered primarily throughout western and southeastern Minnesota where severe weather conditions did the most damage to the hay crop.
Welsh estimates there have been approximately 100 inquiries about the sites, with farmers in western Minnesota expressing the most interest in the program. However, he said the agency hasn't fielded many calls from farmers in southeastern Minnesota.
"[There are] just a handful of inquiries and maybe a couple of sites that are going to be harvested," Welsh said.
He speculated that the area's dairy farmers may be concerned that the lower-quality grass found in the wildlife management areas is not suitable for their cattle.
The DNR will hold a lottery soon to determine which farmers will be able to participate in the harvest.
The state's emergency hay harvest is not entirely free. Welsh said the DNR barters with the farmers for additional services, "either for some mowing of parking lots perhaps or site preparation, if we're doing some plantings."
This is not the first time the DNR has opened up its wildlife management areas to cooperative farming agreements. The agency typically contracts with hundreds of farmers in any given year for as much as 35,000 acres of state-managed land.
But Welsh said the emergency haying agreements are a little different because they were created in response to dire conditions.
"We tried to identify some additional sites for those folks that had a genuine emergency and needed some forage, and we could accomplish some additional goals," he Welsh.