Can the grass 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. Grazing is not permitted. Permits are required to access or perform any type of work within the state highway right of way.
Persons interested in applying for a permit should contact the Iowa DOT. Not all highway right of way may be mowed; and annual permits may have already been issued for some areas. Iowa DOT staff will be able to help identify available areas.
Iowa law prohibits mowing of roadside vegetation on the right of way or medians of any primary highway, interstate highway or secondary road prior to July 15, except:
- Within 200 yards of an inhabited dwelling.
- On right of way within one mile of the corporate limits of a city.
- To promote native species of vegetation or other long-lived and adaptable vegetation.
- To establish control of damaging insect populations, noxious weeds and invasive plant species.
- 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.
- On right of way adjacent to agricultural demonstration or research plots.
The Iowa DOT has established two periods for harvesting grass within the state-maintained highway right of way.
- July 15-Sept. 1: For cool-season grasses and forage legumes (e.g., smooth brome, tall fescue, perennial ryegrass, alfalfa, bird’s-foot trefoil)
- July 15-Aug. 15: For areas containing warm-season native grasses (e.g., switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem, Indiangrass, sideoats grama, Canada wildrye)
The Iowa DOT may restrict operations or define additional stipulations in the permit, including those that affect the health of 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 that is 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 representatives listed below or online athttps://forms.iowadot.gov/FormsMgt/External/810050.pdf. The application covers three types of operations: (1) mowing only; (2) harvesting hay in large or small bales; or (3) harvesting plant material other than hay with machinery, by hand or with hand tools.
Contact the representative serving the area nearest where you would like to harvest grass to receive assistance in processing your permit application. See below for contact information.