By Extension

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN STEVE TONN
It will do more harm than good to burn grasslands too early this spring, yet that is the temptation for many producers. The cool, wet weather so far this year means that producers will have to remain patient and control the urge to conduct a prescribed burn on conservation reserve fields, rangeland and pastures before conditions are right.


Two important conditions must be met before lighting the torch this spring. First, make sure there is enough new vegetative growth. And, second, make sure the ground is dry enough to support the equipment used in the burn.


Producers should wait until grasses have an average of a half inch to two inches of new, sustained growth before burning. Be sure to wait for sustained growth, not just spurts of growth that occur during brief warm spells.


When native or cool-season grasses are burned too early, the stand may suffer long-term effects in terms of forage production. If producers burn too early, moisture evaporates and the soil may puddle, reducing forage production. The bare soil can lose up to a half inch of moisture per week.


Also, bare ground is more vulnerable to soil erosion if we would get a heavy rain. Once forage production has been reduced, it may take one to three years for the grass to recover. Burning too late, after the grasses have more than two inches of new active growth, can also hurt the stand.


Make sure to actually walk or drive the areas that the crew will be using in conducting the burn and determine whether the ground can hold the equipment. Do this immediately before the burn. A vehicle that gets stuck in the mud after the headfire has been lit creates a dangerous situation.


Finally, follow the Marion County regulations for agricultural burning. Copies of the regulations are available from the Marion County extension office or clerk’s office.


Prescribed burning is an excellent management tool. The benefits of prescribed burning native grass pastures, rangeland and conservation reserve fields include recycling nutrients tied up in old plant growth, stimulates tillering, controls woody plants and weeds, improves grazing distribution, improves wildlife habitat- and increases cattle gains for stocker operations.


Contact the Marion County Extension Office for free publications on planning and conducting prescribed burns, burning safety, equipment and the use of prescribed burning as a management tool.

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