Advantages of Burning Pastures in the Flint Hills

(Sarah Moyer) We’re here at the K-State Beef Stocker Field Day. Here to talk with us is Mike Collinge. Mike you are a panelist on the panel speaking on pasture burning issues. As a producer, what tool that you go to, and that you’d recommend that other producers look to when they’re making decisions. (Mike Collinge) One of the main things we’re doing was reinforcing the advantages of burning, economically, ecologically. We were trying to make sure that we had a solid base to stand on, but it is somewhat in jeopardy with some of the clean air standards, and we’re trying to work on that quite a bit. One of the tools that is available to producers, is the smoke model. It’s ksfire.org. You can click on that, it helps you manage your smoke. It allows you to look to see what the consequences are, and gives you a lot of facts to make some decisions on. It is a tool that was partially developed here at K-State. We think it’s an excellent tool all producers should use. A lot of the producers and myself will work on trying to get together to burn at a certain time. You can’t predict the exact day you’re going to burn. That is pretty much impossible, but you can give yourself a window and try to get everybody kind of ready and on the same page, and have enough help that you can do a successful job. We are a minority in the Flint Hills of Kansas, and there are a whole lot of people in the United States that don’t understand what we do. We’re trying to explain to them that we’re doing it for ecological, environmental, and economical reasons, to help the ecosystem. It’s not just about us; it’s pretty much about the whole country. They also get some benefits out of the Flint Hills being as it is, with a periodic fire through it. There’s a decided advantage to the person who owns the cattle, to have those cattle in a burnt pasture, versus an unburnt pasture, if all the economic factors are the same; if the price is exactly the same. There is an absolute difference, between the amount of gain that the cattle will make in a burnt pasture, versus unburnt. I think you’re seeing a small movement starting to reflect the value of what you receive from that gain. It’s about this simple, if it’s burned, it’s probably worth more. If it’s unburned, it’s probably worth a little less. The difference in gain in burned versus unburned, all factors being the same; the average was 55 pounds per head for a 90-day season. Our range was 40 pounds on the low end, to 85 pounds on the high end. You can see there’s a drastic difference as a producer; and as a community, we feel like fire is an iatrical part of maintaining the ecosystem like it was, and like I think it should be. If we did not have fire on a very often basis, I do not believe — our livelihoods would be in jeopardy, and I think our communities would be in jeopardy. They would change, or do something different but it would not be based on the Tallgrass Prairie, because I did not think it would be here if we didn’t have periodic fire.

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