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Harvest grass along highways?

Can the grass that’s growing within the right-of-way of state-maintained highways be legally harvested for livestock feed? Yes, during certain periods of the year and with a permit issued by the Iowa Department of Transportation, according to state DOT officials.

Grazing is not permitted. Permits are required to access or perform any type of work within the state highway right-of-way. People interested in applying for a permit should contact the Iowa DOT state office in Ames. Not all highway right-of-ways may be mowed, and annual permits may have been issued for some areas. Iowa DOT staff will be able to help identify available areas.

Key Points

With a DOT permit, you can harvest grass within right-of-way along highways.

Mowing and baling is allowed only along roadways maintained by state of Iowa.

Apply for a permit at an Iowa Department of Transportation district office.


Iowa law prohibits mowing of roadside vegetation on the right-of-way or medians of any primary highway, interstate highway or secondary road before July 15. Exceptions are within 200 yards of an inhabited dwelling and on right-of-way within one mile of the corporate limits of a city.

Also, you are allowed to mow before July 15 to promote native species of vegetation or other long-lived and adaptable vegetation, and to establish control of damaging insect populations, noxious weeds and invasive plant species.

Also, mowing is allowed along roadways for visibility and safety reasons; within rest areas, weigh stations and wayside parks; within 50 feet of a drainage tile or tile intake; for access to a mailbox or for other accessibility purposes; and land adjacent to ag demonstration or research plots.

When is harvest allowed?

The Iowa DOT has established two time periods for harvesting grass within the state-maintained highway right-of-way.

July 15 to Sept. 1 — For cool-season grasses and forage legumes (such as smooth brome, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil).

July 15 to Aug. 15 — For areas containing warm-season native grasses (such as switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, indiangrass, sideoats grama and Canada wildrye).

The Iowa DOT may restrict operations or define additional stipulations in the permit, including those that affect the health of the vegetation. Mowing of nurse crop or newly seeded areas that are not yet fully established will not be permitted. It can take four to five years following seeding for an area to become fully established.

All work shall be performed between 30 minutes after sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset. Work performed between the road and ditch bottom requires traffic control. All personnel must wear approved safety apparel, which the Iowa DOT will provide for the applicant when the permit is approved.

The Iowa DOT makes no guarantee as to the quality and quantity of the grasses or presence of any toxic materials or other contaminants. Applicants should check with the local Iowa DOT maintenance facility for herbicide application records.

Iowa DOT Form 810050, “Harvesting and Mowing Permit Application,” is available from any of the DOT district headquarters or online from Iowa DOT. The application covers three types of operations: mowing only; harvesting hay in large or small bales; or harvesting plant material other than hay with machinery, by hand or with hand tools.

Source: Iowa DOT

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HIGHWAY HAY: During certain periods of the year and with a permit issued by the Iowa DOT you can legally harvest the grass within the right-of-way of state highways in Iowa.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.