Most pasture rental agreements do not address the concerns of extreme drought during the grazing season, says University of Nebraska Extension educator, Tim Lemmons.
"It is as important, if not more important, that pasture owners address pasture management and quality during periods of extended drought," he says. "During drought, soil moisture is not replenished and substantial damage may be done to the pasture if it is allowed to become overgrazed." The damage might include soil compaction, encroachment of weeds, loss of desired grass and forage species and loss of animal condition.
"To preserve the pasture and to limit weight loss on cattle, many producers are choosing to move off grass early," Lemmons says. "In some cases, cattle may receive supplemental feed in pasture; however, it is important to carefully monitor overall condition."
Pasture owners need to consider the potential damage to the grazing land when they are managing their leases under extreme drought conditions.
Drought affects both the landowner and the tenant. "For the renter, considerable management effort is required to relocate grazing cattle, particularly during periods when grazing land is simply unavailable," Lemmons says. This problem is compounded with the fact that hay is high priced and scarce.
"For the landowner, there is the potential for revenue loss and investment loss," he says. "When grass pasture qualities are allowed to degrade, there is the potential of asset value loss. Taxes must still be paid and fixed and variable expenses will persist."
He says, "It has long been recommended that written pasture lease agreements include provisions for drought loss and the potential for early removal of cattle prior to the termination date. This might include the use of flexible cash lease arrangements and the proration of grazing rates relative to pasture quantity and quality."
Generally, if cattle are removed from pasture prior to completion of the typical grazing season, a lease is modified to include only those days which are grazed, Lemmons says. "Realistically, if the stand performance is reduced to the point where a lease modification is necessary, then the potential for financial loss by both parties must be considered," he says.
Renters and landowners might also consider a different variable monthly pricing rate for cattle, including specific charges relative to a pasture's drought status, vegetative index, species densities or overall production for the month.
"For example, a cool-season pasture may charge more for cattle grazing during high productivity months and less for low productivity months, to better match forage availability to growth characteristics," says Lemmons.
If you'd like more information about handling pasture lease issues during a drought year, contact Lemmons online at [email protected] or call 402-370-4061.