Updated: 8.22.17  For more information, contact the Iowa Cattlemen's Association at iacattlemen@iabeef.org or 515-296-2266

Iowa Cattlemen’s Association

Special Report: Drought

Drought conditions are impacting the agriculture industry across the state of Iowa, especially cattle producers. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association is working with local and state agencies including the Farm Service Agency and ISU Extension to develop resources and information to help producers make the most of the forage available for their cattle.

According to Harry Hillaker, Iowa’s State Climatologist, only 2012 and 2013 brought less July rainfall to the state among the past 25 years. The last week of the month, only 37 percent of pasture in the state was rated good to excellent.

These conditions have, without a doubt, caused stress to Iowa cattle operations in various areas of the state. This Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Special Report is designed to provide our members with educational resources to help manage their herds during this trying time.

As always, we invite you to contact your association with any concerns or questions you may have. Let us know what conditions are like in your part of the state, and feel free to call or email if you need more information about one of the topics below.


In this Report

FSA Programs Available

Preg Checking Pays the Bills in Drought Conditions

Water Quality and Availability

Feeding Drought Corn Silage to Beef Cows

Managing the Cow Herd around Dry Pastures

Emergency Haying or Grazing of Eligible CRP Acres

Iowa Hay and Straw Directory

Iowa Beef Center Drought Resources

FSA Programs Available

In addition to emergency haying and/or grazing of CRP ground (see below for details), FSA has several other programs available to assist producers in drought stricken areas. Contact your county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office for more information.

Livestock Forage Program (LFP) Grazing Losses: Provides compensation to eligible livestock producers that have suffered grazing losses because of drought.   To be eligible, the grazed land must be located in a county that is D2 on the US Drought Monitor for 8 weeks, or D3 or greater for any one time during the normal grazing period.  To date the following counties have met the criteria:  Clarke, Decatur, Jefferson, Lucas, Madison, Marion, Union, Wapello, Warren, and Wayne.

The producer must have had risk in the commercial livestock farming operation, and he or she must have owned, cash leased, entered into a contract to purchase, or been a contract grower of the livestock during the 60 calendar days before the beginning date of the eligible weather event.

Livestock that were or would have been in a feedlot are not eligible for this program

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)

EC6 Drought Emergency Measures (D3 Extreme Drought Counties)
Eligible to farmers and/or ranchers who annually produce the following commercially: livestock, orchards, and vineyards. Animals only for recreational purposes are not considered eligible.

This practice provides water conservation and enhancement measures to:

  • permit grazing of range, pasture, or forage by livestock 
  • supply emergency water for existing irrigation systems serving orchards and vineyards
  • provide emergency water for confined livestock operations. 


  • Only those farms or ranches that had adequate livestock watering systems or facilities or adequate irrigation systems for orchards and vineyards before the drought are eligible for C/S assistance.
  • A drought-related problem must exist, and the approved practice must be installed primarily to deal with the drought-related problem.
  • There must be adequate range or pasture residue for livestock in the area to be served by a proposed water facility at the time of the request.
  • Livestock water facilities should contribute to better distribution of grazing.
  • Pump equipment and adequate storage facilities must be provided when wells are installed.

Practice Costshare Policies

  • installing pipe to an existing or newly developed source of water because the primary source is inadequate. (Note: One-time connection fee to public rural water utility lines charged by the water service authority, limited to labor, equipment, and materials, is authorized. Charges for water service must be wholly borne by the producer.)
  • storage facilities, including tanks incorporated into a new or existing water distribution systems, and troughs above ground, if needed to supply water for immediate needs of livestock
  • constructing and deepening wells for livestock water
  • developing springs or seeps for livestock water
  • wells where there is no other source of emergency water available that could be developed at less expense

Eligible Losses from Transporting Water

Eligible losses due to the additional costs of transporting water under Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) are:

  • losses that are due to an eligible D3 drought or worse
  • for the additional cost of transporting water to eligible livestock (beef and dairy cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats etc.), including, but not limited to, costs associated with water transport equipment fees, labor and contracted water transportation fees, but does not include the cost of the water itself.

Animals have to be owned, cash-leased, purchased, under contract for purchase or been raised by a contract grower or an eligible livestock producer, during the 60 calendar days prior to the beginning date of the D3 or worse drought condition and are physically located in the county where the eligible drought occurred.

The producer must have had adequate livestock watering systems or facilities before the D3 drought and do not normally require the transport of water by the producer; and maintained for commercial use as part of the producer’s farming operation on the beginning date of the D3 or worse drought.

Livestock that were or would have been in a feedlot are not eligible for this program.

Farm Loan Programs
Emergency loans to offset production losses are available in counties with a disaster designation.  These are typically 7-20 year loans at an interest rate of 3.75%.  In addition, many existing FSA Farm Loan Program loans are eligible for payment set-aside through the Disaster Set-Aside Program.

FSA’s Farm Loan Programs also offer direct operating loans and guaranteed loans that can be used to refinance debt, provide working capital, or fund continuing operations.  These programs do not require a disaster designation, but are available to assist in the recovery from a disaster.

Counties with a current or forthcoming disaster designation, plus contiguous counties:
Adair, Appanoose, Clarke, Dallas, Davis, Decatur, Guthrie, Henry, Jasper, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lucas, Madison, Mahaska, Marion, Monroe, Polk, Ringgold, Union, Van Buren, Wapello, Warren, Washington, and Wayne.


Preg Checking pays the bills in drought conditions

In this 2016 article, Patrick Gunn, ISU Extension Beef Specialist, gave solid advice that applies again this year.

“Due to the drought in some locations, it is likely that many producers will note an increase in feed costs, coming as a result of prolonged delivery of harvested feeds.  Unfortunately, some producers have already resorted to feeding hay this summer.  As such, early identification of open cows will get those females off the feed bill, easily paying for the pregnancy detection invoice with money left over.”

Water Quality and Availability 

In the absence of drought conditions, fresh forage can actually supply some of the daily water requirements for grazing cattle. Without adequate grazing, this situation can quickly lead to dehydration when producers consider that a healthy heifer can drink up to 20 gallons each day in the warmer months.

Streams and ponds contaminated with green algae, parasites or other contaminants can all discourage the animal to fully hydrate. In drought conditions, many surface water sources evaporate completely or are so stagnant the animals refuse to drink. Read more here.

Feeding Drought Corn Silage to Beef Cows 

Beth Doran, Extension Beef Program Specialist, cautions producers who plan to green-chop or make silage to check with both their Farm Service Agency and crop insurance agency before chopping. If drought-stressed corn is green-chopped, producers should be aware of the potential for nitrate toxicity.

“There is a quick test that can be used to test for the presence of nitrates, but a sample of the green-chopped feed should be sent to a commercial testing laboratory to determine the amount of nitrate,” Doran said. “Do this before feeding!”

Ensiling of drought-stressed corn will reduce the nitrate concentration by about 40 to 60 percent. Still, producers need to have it tested after ensiling and before feeding to determine the actual level of nitrate. If the nitrate level is high, the silage may be diluted with low-nitrate feedstuffs.

Doran reminds producers that tolerance to nitrate ranges with the type of beef animal. Feedlot cattle over 700 pounds tend to be more tolerant; whereas, lighter feedlot animals or pregnant cows and heifers are least tolerant. It is advisable to feed it to the most tolerant animals.

Other best management practices include harvesting at the proper dry matter, allowing four to five weeks for fermentation, slowly adapting the animal to the silage and providing a balanced diet.

For more information on the feeding value, spoilage problems, and ration conditions related to drought corn silage, refer to this resource, written by Dr. Daryl Strohbehn and Dr. Dan Loy, Iowa State University.

Managing the Cow Herd around Dry Pastures 

Erika Lundy, Extension Beef Program Specialist with the Iowa Beef Center, offered 3 tips for cow/calf producers in drought areas in this month’s Iowa Cattleman magazine. Read the entire article here.

  1. Avoid overgrazing to prevent long-term setbacks in forage production and yield.  Consider designating an area of a pasture to maintain cows during dry conditions to avoid damaging all of the pasture ground.

  2. If forage supply is limited, supplementation of grain or grain-based co-products can improve cattle performance and help extend the grazing season.  Consider economics and rumen microbe populations when supplementing.

  3. In instances of excessive forage shortage, early weaning of calves (weaned prior to 180 days of age) should be considered as a method to reduce nutrient requirements of the female and reduce grazing pressure.

Emergency Haying or Grazing of Eligible CRP Acres


All eligible CRP acres can be grazed or hayed statewide since the nesting season ended August 1. Producers in eligible counties will not be subject to the payment reduction for CRP haying/grazing.

Acreage eligible for managed or emergency haying and grazing includes acreage devoted to the following practices: CP1, CP2, CP4B, CP4D, CP8A, CP10, CP23, CP23A, CP27, CP28, CP37 CP38E-2, CP38E-4D, CP38E-10 and CP41. CRP participants are reminded that a certain percentage of fields must be left unhayed or ungrazed. Emergency haying is only available on 50% of eligible acreages.

Acreage ineligible for Emergency Haying or Emergency Grazing includes acreage devoted to useful life easements, land within 120 feet of a stream or other permanent water body or any practice not listed above. Acreages with Palmar amaranth present are not eligible for emergency haying.

Emergency haying can be authorized through August 31 and is limited to one cutting. All haying activities must be completed by Aug. 31. Approved emergency grazing can be conducted through September 30. Haying or grazing may be requested, but not both on the same CRP contract.

Landowners interested in emergency haying or grazing of CRP acres should contact their county Farm Service Agency (FSA) office and meet with the local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff to obtain a modified conservation plan to include emergency haying/grazing.

Once approval is granted by FSA, authorized producers can use the CRP acreage for their own livestock or may grant use to another livestock producer. CRP participants can donate but are not allowed to sell any hay or forage removed from CRP as a result of this emergency release.

Iowa counties that are eligible for emergency haying and grazing of CRP without the payment reduction include:


Iowa Hay and Straw Directory

List provides information of both buyers and sellers of Iowa hay and straw

Iowa Department of Agriculture maintains an online hay and straw directory. The directory lists Iowa producers with hay and straw for sale, as well as organizations and businesses associated with promoting and marketing quality hay and straw.

The listing is available to interested buyers throughout the nation, however only sellers from within Iowa can be included on the list.

Names are gathered throughout the year with added emphasis now that hay harvest has started. Sections within the Hay and Straw Directory include “Forage for Sale,” “Forage Auctions,” “Hay Associations,” “Forage Dealers,” “Hay Grinders” and “Custom Balers.”

Farmers interested in listing should visit the Department’s website at www.IowaAgriculture.gov.  An application form can be found by going to the “Bureaus” link and then selecting “Agricultural Diversification and Market Development.”  Then click on “Hay & Straw Directory” on the right side of the page under “Directories.”

Iowa Beef Center Drought Resources

The Iowa Beef Center has compiled a variety of educational pieces on drought concerns, including:

  • Water and other resources
  • Cow-Calf Considerations
  • Grazing, Pastures, Forages, Grain
  • Herd and animal health
  • Pricing and financial tools
  • Weather maps and reports
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