Could Low Prices Prompt This Alternative Land Use?

February 2, 2016 09:26 AM

Lower profit potential on irrigated ground will only look worse if La Niña comes calling this summer, dragging drought into the picture. Do any alternatives options for that land look lucrative?

Bruce Anderson, Extension forage specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, sees some potential in converting some acres to irrigated pastures. 

“When pasture rent approaches or even exceeds $300 per cow-calf pair for the season, it may be time to look at other options,” he says. “One attractive option might be to grow your own irrigated pasture, especially when corn prices are below $4 a bushel. Well-managed irrigated pasture can support about 1.5 cow-calf pairs per acre. At current rental rates, this could save you over $400 per acre.”

It comes down to a return-on-investment (ROI) decision, Anderson says. A farmer could gross more per acre growing irrigated corn, but that doesn’t always translate into higher profits per acre, he says.

Anderson says UNL has several guides on best management practices around managing irrigated pasture. They can be found at

According to a 2013 USDA Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, the top 10 states with the most irrigated acres accounted for more than 70% of U.S. irrigated acres. Top states include (in descending order of irrigated acres): Nebraska, California, Arkansas, Texas, Idaho, Kansas, Colorado, Montana, Mississippi and Washington.

“This year, with $4 per bushel corn, irrigated pastures may provide more of the benefits you need for your overall operation.”

Tap into additional land-grant university resources from Colorado State University, Utah State University, and others.

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