Extension Provides Assistance in Drought Management

Beth Ellen Doran, Beef Field Specialist, Northwest


A dry spring in NW Iowa was the beginning of weather challenges for forage-based beef producers.  May, 2006 was the 5th driest on record.  Hence, there was no extra spring surplus to carry over into the summer months.  This was coupled with hot, dry weather in all of July and the first half of August.    

Education on how to manage drought, beginning in June and continuing through early September, involved a variety of methods.  Three meetings (Grazin Days and Managing in Drought Conditions) reached 267 forage-based producers.  Nitrate sampling involved testing 68 cornstalk samples for the presence of nitrates in the bottom 36 inches of the stalk. News about drought management included three articles (Daily Globe, Northwest Iowa Farmer and the ISU Extension Field and Feedlot newsletter) and two radio tapes (KQAD and KCHE).  Specific consultations were conducted with nine beef producers.  I also met with a drought sub-committee of the Sioux County Farm Service Agency to complete a state-wide county damage assessment report specially requested by Governor Vilsack.       

Forage-based producers who attended the three meetings were provided with alternative solutions to manage short pastures and secure winter feed supplies.  Informal conversations indicated that many producers early-weaned calves, reducing the maintenance requirement of the cows by 30%.  This fall, there was an increase in the number of fields chopped for corn silage.
Nitrate testing included 48 samples at the two drought meetings.  Ninety percent of the plants with no ears tested positive for nitrates; whereas, 70% to 75% of the plants with ears were positive for nitrates.  Plant height did not matter.  About a month later, I worked with Natures Best, an agri-business in Lyon County, to test 20 cornstalk samples.  Even after cooler weather and two weeks of rain, 34% of these samples tested positive for nitrates.  At my encouragement, Natures Best sent 8 samples to a private lab to determine the nitrate concentration.  Sixty-two percent of these samples were safe to feed, but 25% were at toxic levels, and it was recommended that this should not be fed!  In media releases, all livestock producers were encouraged to test feedstuffs for nitrate concentrations prior to feeding.
Nine private consultations involved questions about nitrates, alternative feedstuffs and additional pastures for grazing.  Two producers inquiring about nitrates were advised to test for nitrate concentrations and feed accordingly.  One question involved pasture establishment, and this producer was advised to wait until there was adequate moisture for germination.  Three producers were advised about alternative feedstuffs for cow and creep rations.  Three producers, who inquired about additional pasture for grazing, were advised to check with their local FSA about the approved release of CRP land for emergency haying and grazing. 
The results of the Sioux County FSA meeting were positive.  Sioux County subsequently received a disaster declaration, entitling its livestock producers to federal disaster assistance.  Ultimately, seven of my ten counties were declared D3 (disaster approved) counties.  One of the benefits is that livestock producers will be allowed to emergency graze and hay CRP ground at 10% repayment.

October 2006

140 Iowa Beef Center

Page last updated: October 5, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu