WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A niche hay and straw market promises higher profits for Indiana growers, if they can leave one essential ingredient out of each bale. That missing something is invasive weeds.
The Indiana Noxious Weed Seed-Free Forage and Mulch Certification Program offers producers an opportunity to enter a market that heretofore was available only to growers in western states.
Leading the way. Indiana is one of the first states east of the Mississippi River with such a certification program. The program, developed in cooperation with Purdue University, is administered by the Indiana Crop Improvement Association.
For hay and straw to be certified noxious weed seed-free, the preharvested crop – and areas where it is stored – cannot contain the seed of 67 invasive weeds.
Certification inspections are conducted by Indiana Crop Improvement Association personnel.
In demand. Demand for noxious weed seed-free hay and straw is growing, said Keith Johnson, Purdue Extension forage specialist.
“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,” Johnson said.
“The calls come from people wanting to trail ride in the national parks system. The national parks are trying to keep their parks free of these troublesome invasive weeds.
“The other interest in this program has come from contractors wanting straw that would be noxious weed/troublesome plant seed-free and utilized for the purpose of reducing erosion in highway construction.”
Culprits. The noxious weed/undesirable plant list is a who’s who of problematic vegetation. Included on the list are such weeds as Canada thistle, musk thistle, wild garlic, wild onion, cocklebur, Johnsongrass, giant foxtail, buckhorn, pennycress, field pepperweed and Eastern black nightshade.
If one prohibited weed is found in a hay or wheat field during an Indiana Crop Improvement Association inspection, it does not mean the entire field fails to meet the certification standard, said Joe DeFord, manager of Indiana Crop Improvement Association field programs.
Won’t be perfect. Parts of fields can be certified noxious weed seed-free, DeFord said.
“If a designated area or field has none of those weeds at the time of inspection, then within 10 days producers can harvest it and call it certified noxious weed seed-free,” DeFord said.
“The inspections happen every time there is a harvested crop. Obviously, for straw that’s going to happen one time, 10 days prior to the wheatfield being harvested.
“The same goes for hay. Many times you get two or three cuttings of hay and we’ll come out and inspect that same field, so that all cuttings are designated noxious weed seed-free.”
During an inspection personnel will determine if any noxious weeds have reached the flowering stage, where seed maturation has occurred, DeFord said.
If so, those fields or areas will not be certified. Certified hay and straw can contain weeds not found on the noxious weed/undesirable plant list, DeFord said.
How to get certified. To become a certified noxious weed seed-free producer, growers must pay a $500 lifetime Indiana Crop Improvement Association membership fee, a $10 application fee, a $10 per field fee, $2.75 per acre for field inspection and a nominal charge for certification bale tags.
Other possible costs include herbicide treatments.
The return on investment can be worth the added expense, DeFord said.
Might be worth it. “A weed-free bale of straw, for instance, might garner a dollar to maybe $2 more a bale. It depends on the market,” he said.
“In terms of hay, I’ve heard that national parks will garner up to twice the typical value of hay sold at local Indiana markets for the bales they sell.”
While higher profits are possible, not every producer is cut out for the noxious weed/troublesome plant-free hay and straw business, Johnson said.
“This program probably caters best to individuals who have been marketing hay successfully, particularly those who have worked with horse owners,” Johnson said.
“To think that even 25 percent of the forage producers in the state will sign on to do this is too high. But certainly there could very well be 20 percent of the cash crop hay producers in the state that would find this of interest.”
Learn more. For more information about the noxious weed seed-free hay and straw certification program, log onto www.indianacrop.org/weedfreeprogram.htm.
Additional information also is available by contacting the Indiana Crop Improvement Association toll-free at 866-899-2518 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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