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Drought not just affecting crops

This summer has been hot, and in some pastures, like Scott McGregor’s near Nashua in northeast Iowa, there is a lack of regrowth in grazing land for his 130 head of Angus cattle. McGregor and other Iowa Cattlemen’s Association members voiced concerns about the drought and a number of other issues at the ICA Summer Policy meeting in Ames. “The high temperatures swung us for a loop,” he said.

Dividing his 80 acres of pasture into quarters, McGregor rotates his cattle with one week in a section of pasture and four weeks off to let it grow back. But this year has been different. Sometimes, he harvests it as forage to supplement the alfalfa he raises, and while the first cutting produced adequate forage, the heat and lack of rain in June prevented regrowth.

Key Points

Iowa cattle producers are concerned over drought and regulations on feedlot runoff.

Fence law is another important issue producers say can impact herd numbers.

Fuel tax hike could help maintain county roads and bridges, and benefit producers.


One way McGregor believes this could be countered is if USDA would open land in the Conservation Reserve Program to use for a limited amount of hay and grazing. With as much as $200 an acre going toward CRP that could be used as potential grazing land, he said it’s difficult to acquire adequate pastureland. “How do you compete with that for pasture?”

While he hasn’t lost any cattle or calves to the heat yet, it has taken a toll, especially on calves. “We’ve had to watch them more closely,” he said, “to keep them from getting sick.”

Cattle numbers declining

With the decrease in the number of cattle nationwide, including Iowa, McGregor said the drought could potentially have a similar effect as the one Texas experienced last year. Rising prices are another factor, and he noted the expense in replacing cattle, usually a loss to the producer. “It’s tough to rebuild a herd.”

Another factor in reducing herd numbers is a lack of available fence. McGregor would like to see the current state fence law changed. “There aren’t as many cattle in Iowa anymore,” he said. “We need an incentive to keep them here.”

Iowa’s fence law requires both adjoining parties to contribute to the necessary fence’s construction, and farmers with just row crops, or nonresidential property owners, may not feel obliged to comply, McGregor noted. “How do you come to an agreement on what’s right?” he asked, noting he’s willing to contribute his half. “You need to have a good agreement with your neighbors.”

Environmental regulation on feedlot runoff is another key issue for ICA, and McGregor said requirements are still applicable to smaller operations, requiring even operations under 1,000 head (although categorized as medium CAFOs) to acquire a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permit if any manure or pollutant is discharged at all. “Feedlot owners who are 1,000 head need to be aware of these regulations, too.”

Kent Pruismann, who has a feedlot near Sioux Center in northwest Iowa, said although he’s had an NPDES permit for nearly seven years and acknowledges the benefits of quality water and runoff control, there are some aspects he doesn’t agree with. “Some of the rules and regulation duties we’re required to perform make no sense,” he said, noting an example in one of the requirements to ensure no water hasn’t leaked. “I need a daily log of every water fountain.”

With requirements like this, which include monitoring a high and low temperature of the water every day of the year, Pruismann would like an explanation for why this is necessary. “That would mean a lot to me,” he said. “How is that relevant to water quality?”

Such concerns were prominent among cattle producers at the session. They discussed CRP and pasture availability, runoff regulations, issues relating to availability of ultrasound pregnancy checking, the ethanol industry and a potential fuel tax increase and property taxes. Supporters say an increase in Iowa’s fuel tax could benefit rural roads and bridges used daily by cattle producers.

Road repairs needed

Many Iowa roads and bridges are in poor condition. “Farmers and rural community residents are aware of this,” said state Rep. Steve Olson, R-DeWitt. However, Olson and cattle producers at the seminar note that many residents would likely oppose a tax increase, regardless of the benefits that come with it.

Olson said a possible solution requires that an increase be part of the tax equation to some degree and raising awareness would be beneficial. “That’s an issue we need to educate the public on,” he said. “Everyone needs to become engaged.”

ICA president Ross Havens of Wiota in western Iowa said many cattlemen are concerned about drought. Environmental regulation is also high on the list. “Input from our members has been really good,” he said, noting cattle producers are working hard to improve the environment and develop a good relationship with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “We’ve been dealing with this for over 10 years now.”

Cattle producers are also concerned about veterinarians continuing to have ultrasound available for pregnancy checking. Regulations are threatening to remove that useful tool.

Although some areas of Iowa are hit harder by drought than others this year, all beef producers are concerned as they now face higher-than-anticipated feed costs due to reduced corn and hay crops. “Hopefully, producers are already planning ahead,” said Havens, pointing out the lack of grazing land as another factor for cow-calf producers. “With significantly higher feed costs than we had expected prior to the drought, we all need to be looking at our feed supply and plan accordingly.”

Harris is a Wallaces Farmer intern.

Obtaining an NPDES permit

Any cattle producer concerned about a potential discharge or feedlot runoff problem should contact the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, says President Ross Havens. ICA will provide information on the required steps to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

Getting a permit begins with an application process, which a permit writer will review. The writer will then make a draft, which includes at least five sections.

First is a cover page with name and location of the applicant, a statement authorizing the discharge and the location of the discharge. Second is a list of effluent limits used to control a discharge, based on applicable technology and water quality standards. Third are monitoring and reporting requirements followed by a list of special conditions to supplement effluent limits. Last, a list of standard conditions that apply to all NPDES permits. After this, the public can review and submit comments, before the writer comes up with the final permit application.


This article published in the August, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.