One of the harder phone calls Allan Vyhnalek received early last fall involved a landowner who was concerned that the tenant left their cattle on a pasture too long given the drought. The pasture was basically turned into a 'road.'
The landlord was willing to take less rent and get the cattle off, according to Vyhnalek, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension educator in Platte County. The tenant, who had a lease valid until Oct. 20, was unwilling to take the cattle off early. "If he did, he would need to start feeding the cattle with expensive hay. For the tenant, the pasture rent was already paid for and that was cheaper than other alternatives."
It is easy to see how this is difficult for both parties. Everyone understands that leaving the cattle on the pasture too long reduces the long-term health of the pasture. The pasture will basically take a lot longer to recover if it has been severely overgrazed.
The easier way to handle this situation in the future is to include a clause in your written pasture lease for dry conditions, Vyhnalek recommends. "When it is too dry to continue using a pasture, the tenant should be required to take the animals out. In addition, the rent owed should be adjusted lower, accordingly."
Other important clauses should be considered, he says. What if there is a severe hail? What if the pasture burns in a fire? The clause for drought should probably be expanded to include these two disaster situations, too.
"In addition, it seems to me that discussions should occur about when grazing starts next year," Vyhnalek says. "If we get adequate rain and grass starts normally then this is a moot point. But if it doesn't rain, or if the grass is slow starting because of overgrazing in 2012, delaying the start of grazing should be a reasoned approach for 2013 management of the pasture."
The rent owed should also be adjusted accordingly, according to Vyhnalek.
If we have slow regrowth in 2013, stocking rates should also be adjusted to fit the moisture available and the growing conditions. Having leases priced on an animal unit month charge and not by the acre, may be a reasoned approach to handle this change in stocking rates.
In most situations, the livestock drinking water is not an issue. But a clause should also be added to include provisions for livestock water if the water source goes dry, he suggests.
Another possibility based on the drought is that pastures which receive moisture could become over-run with weeds. This would never be a problem when the pasture is grazed appropriately. However, when that thatch canopy is opened, seeds which have been in the ground for years now start to grow. A discussion about the expense of weed control is appropriate.
Typically, the weed control of pastures is a landlord expense, Vyhnalek explains. But in this case, the tenant over-grazed the pasture causing the weed flush after receiving moisture. Tenants didn't mean to over graze, the 2012 drought was as severe as any in 50 years according to some. Managing the weed control in the next couple of years will be something that clearly needs to be discussed to reach an equitable agreement.
"As you can tell, there aren't many concrete suggestions for solutions to these situations. The key point of providing this information is to encourage the tenant and landlord to plan ahead for 2013 in case the drought continues.
"I have always maintained on any lease, communications will be the key. The tenant should be letting the landlord know about the pasture conditions and the landlord should be communicating their expectations too. The bottom line is: 'Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.'"