Drought can really play havoc on pasture leases, says University of Nebraska forage Extension specialist Bruce Anderson. All too often, pasture leases fail to include an appropriate plan to adjust to this problem, he points out.

Without a plan, both the landowner and the tenant are at risk. The landowner risks having the pasture become overgrazed, resulting in future weed problems, reduced production, and lowered value.

The tenant risks poor performance or health of the livestock due to less forage and lower quality feed. This can lead to higher supplemental feed costs or being forced to sell the cattle.

So, who decides when drought has lowered pasture production low enough to remove the cattle? And, what should be the adjustment in the rent payment?

Anderson says, “Unfortunately, I can’t give you a specific answer. Instead, now is the time to discuss these issues as landlord and tenant. Usually, it is best to design the lease so both the landowner and tenant share in the opportunity and risk associated with drought by adding an appropriate escape clause due to drought. Be sure to list the length of the grazing period and the lease. Also make sure that stocking rates are specified in the lease, adjusting these stocking levels for increased cow size if necessary. And get it all in writing to avoid any misunderstandings later.

Anderson concludes, “Drought can cause a lot of headaches. But if you’ve planned ahead, making sudden adjustments to your pasture leases won’t be one of them.”