Another round of rain is proceeding through the area as this is written. At least this event has been relatively light in nature. Progress has been made around the area in terms of producers heading out to accomplish field work. Wheat fields are being top-dressed and progress is slowly happening for producers preparing to plant corn. According to the K-State Mesonet, the soil temperature at two inches was a little over 50 degrees fahrenheit. Corn planting should son be upon the area, moisture permitting. One activity common this time of year is burning of perennial pastures and CRP ground. The questions many still have is why we burn these fields, why now, do they need to be burned every year, and does it damage the environment?
• The major reason the major was essentially treeless was the occurrence of periodic fire. This helps maintain the grassland.
• Burning helps eliminate unwanted/unnecessary plant reside which can harbor diseases and insects, slow soil warming, and tie up nutrients.
• The growing point for grasses is below the top growth so burning will not kill the growing point of grasses but can for annual broadleaf weeds. And burning can kill undesirable weed species seeds as well as helping to kill off/prevent invasive weed species from becoming established.
• Burning helps recycle nutrients as they are released and prevent the tie up of nutrients as micro-organisms break down last year’s growth.
• Where there isn’t grazing, haying, uneven grazing, or even with these events, grass residue accumulates and over accumulation results in the problems previously described. This can result in fewer, weaker plants with a decreased stand, production, and feed quality.
• Finally, for CRP ground, it not only keeps the trees out, it also prevents the accumulation of too much fuel and helps prevent severe grass fires.
• Theoretically, you could burn at other times of the year. However, here we generally have a greater chance of moisture for plant growth. Fall burning leave ground vulnerable to wind erosion if moisture is lacking and there is no regrowth. Falls are typically dry. Most would like to burn just as grass is starting to regrow and this allows for quick cover and protects the soil.
Burn every year?
• Normally, no. Every two to three years should suffice unless conditions are unusual.
• During abnormally dry years with little accumulation, there is also little reason to burn unless it has been several years.
Damage the environment?
• Managed properly no. In fact, proper burning combine with proper grazing actually improve the quality of the grassland ecosystem while providing better pasture for livestock.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.