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Weed-free forage niche market growing, yielding higher prices per bale

LAS CRUCES - Hay producers can add value to their product by having noxious weed-free forage certification through New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.


"This is a win-win situation. A farmer can get a better price for their forage and it helps prevent the spread of noxious weeds," said Tracey Carrillo, NMSU director of seed certification and weed-free forage programs.

Initially the prevention program targeted baled forage and straw used by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but Carrillo can see the hay becoming a niche-market for people using horses in the restricted area.

The certification program is the first step to preventing the spread of noxious weeds into the national forests and wilderness areas. Presently, forestry service staff are required to feed their pack and riding horses certified weed-free hay when in the forest or wilderness area. Straw used in soil erosion reclamation projects or animal bedding also must be noxious weed-free, said Leonard Lake, invasive plant program coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service Southwest Region, which comprises 11 national forests in New Mexico, Arizona and three national grasslands in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

The Southwest Region is just beginning its noxious and invasive weed prevention program, which will evolve from internal policy to regulating what the public horsemen use when on forest service land. Lake expects it will be two to three years before the public will be required to have certified weed-free forage when they bring horse feed onto federal property. Once the regulation is implemented a niche-market will develop for noxious weed-free forage.

"Before we can require our people and the public to use noxious weed-free forage while on federal land, we need a source," Lake said. "We have been working with NMDA and Tracey at NMSU to establish a certification program."

Felipe Sanchez of Jarales is one of the first farmers to have his hay certified. He says the cost of certification is offset by the benefits.

"I'm selling my hay at a higher price, $4 a bale more," Sanchez said of the 90 tons that was shipped to various forest service locations in 2008. "I didn't have to treat my fields any different than I had been doing. I just had to have the inspector come out and certify the field before I cut the hay."
Cost of certification includes $20 per hour for inspection and driving time; 58.5 cents per mile for mileage and $2.50 per acre. A request for certification needs to be made to NMSU's seed certification department 10 days prior to expected harvest date. The crop will be certified using the North American Certified Weed Free regional list and the New Mexico Noxious Weed list.

"Once the inspector arrives at the field he inspects the crop at two entry points, the field perimeter and the storage area. Once approved as noxious weed-free, a certificate of inspection is completed and sent to the producer. The producer will identify the inspected forage by a specially colored twine available through NMSU's seed certification department," Carrillo said.

For more information about New Mexico weed-free forage program visit www.seedcertification.nmsu.edu or contact Carrillo at tcarrill@nmsu.edu or (575) 646-4125. Questions regarding noxious weeds contact Jim Wanstall at NMDA, jwanstall@thuntek.net or (505) 565-4224.