Iowans Depend on Extension and Outreach When Managing Drought Related Issues

May 2013

Drought is one of the most common and least understood of all natural disasters. It doesn’t hit like a hurricane, tornado, or flash flood. It doesn’t show up on the satellite radar, which may be why many people disregard the effects. Drought creeps.

During 2012 it first claimed Iowa pastures and stunted crop growth. Then the Iowa dairymen and cattlemen began feeding winter feed supplies in September. In time, lawns dried up – so did rivers and streams. Shallow private wells went dry and water mains burst. Meanwhile the ground shifted in silence. Homeowners agonized over fractured foundations. Physically, economically and sociologically, drought did its damage in super-slow motion.

Extension’s Response

Testing CornEarly in the summer the ISU Extension and Outreach network of county offices, field agronomists, livestock specialists and university resources – including hotlines – responded to the drought issues most immediate to Iowans. The subject matter of these interactions provided direction for further ISU Extension and Outreach responses.

As the severity of the drought deepened across state, more than 6,000 Iowans participated in ISU Extension and Outreach meetings and webinars and called hotlines and specialists for updates on crop, livestock and horticulture issues.

Field agronomists and beef specialists tested over 750 samples of corn stalks, green chop corn and silage for crop producers to date – producers used meeting information to adjust their management approach to minimize the use of green chop corn and therefore reduce the potential for cattle deaths due to nitrate toxicity.

Farm management specialists added drought issues to the agendas of already scheduled farm lease meetings.

Faculty and extension specialists have prepared and reviewed publications, fact sheets and other material on drought-related topics such as herd and animal health, grazing, pastures and forages, aflatoxin, crop insurance, water conservation tips, and farm and family financial management – and continue to cover pertinent topics in this way. All publications are available at no charge on the Dealing with Drought website.

Extension specialists continued testing for nitrates as corn stalks are harvested and grazed, and silage structures opened. Livestock producer programs focused on water and feed issues caused by the drought, high cost of feed for beef producers, and the long term outlook, planning and financial management of herds.


Extension and Outreach specialists are monitoring Iowans’ need for more information. This spring agricultural engineers provided emergency water storage information for crop and livestock producers.2012 crops withdrew the bulk of available water from the top 8 (or more) feet; 16 to 18 inches of moisture is required for soil recharge. Normally the October to April moisture building period of the water year receives 12 inches of moisture.

“Throughout the drought and all the programs we’ve done, as we’ve reached over thousands of producers, Extension and Outreach is here to help people,” said Denise Schwab, extension beef specialist. “We’re not here for the cattle or for the crops, but we’re here for the farmers that we work with. That’s what makes this job fun and exciting and a challenge to go to work very morning.”

Learn more about the ISU Extension and Outreach response to the drought from:

DeniseSchwab, extension beef specialist,, 319-472-4739
Joel DeJong, extension field agronomist,, 712-546-7835  
Shawn Shouse, extension agricultural engineer,, 712-769-2600
Tom Glanville, professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering,, 515-294-6633

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