If you use cover crops and allow waterfowl hunters onto your property in the fall, you should pay close attention here.

We posted an article on our Web site recently that pointed out a potential conflict with cover crops that no-tillers might not know about: Allowing waterfowl hunting on fields where cover crops have been disturbed in the fall could, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, violate federal rules pertaining to baiting.

This determination doesn’t appear to be pointed at no-tillers who leave cover crops standing in the winter, but possibly those who seeded covers on prevented-planting acres earlier this year who decided to mow, disc, roll, chop or otherwise terminate or disturb them.

These fields are considered baited and off limits to migratory waterfowl hunting for 10 days following the complete removal of salt, grain or other feed, says Dean Olson, DNR enforcement district supervisor in Rochester, Minn.

Patrick Lund, resident agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, confirmed that manipulating cover crops in the fall isn’t an approved agronomic practice by Cooperative Extension offices.

Apparently, this ruling has caused quite a stir, with nearly nonstop phone calls aimed at the DNR and Fish and Wildlife Service from farmers and hunters requesting additional details. 

Ryan Stockwell, ag program manger for the National Wildlife Federation, says he expects the agencies to issue some clarification of the ruling by the end of the year, mostly likely covering situations with prevented-planting acres.

Stockwell suspects the agencies may have noticed a lot of oats were seeded on these acres this year that seeded out or were tilled to prevent seeding, and determined that it wasn’t normal agronomic practice. He says the agencies may not have a clear understanding of how cover crops are used and managed for agricultural purposes.

“This is the first time this issue has come up in my experience,” says Stockwell, who no-tills corn, soybeans and wheat and uses cover crops near Medford, Wis. “I think very few acres with cover crops on them would ever be considered baiting, but they need to be more clear. And how do you enforce something with so much gray area and interpretation? It’s impossible for them and the farmers.”

The waterfowl-hunting season may be over in your area. But if it’s not, Stockwell’s suggestion is to get hunters off any questionable fields to avoid any potential legal problems for yourself or the hunters, and check with your state DNR office in the near future to get more clarification on this ruling.

“If you’re doing something with cover crops that you’ve been doing for a number of years, there’s probably nothing to worry about,” he says.