Clinton Owensby with Issues Surrounding Pasture Burning

(Sarah Moyer) We’re here at the K-State Beef Stocker Field Day here with Clenton Owensby. One of the issues that you spoke on briefly was surface exposure and how a pasture is affected when say a heavy rainfall comes or something to that effect. (Dr. Clenton Owensby) The research that’s been done in a 17-year study showed that if you burn early in the spring then you take away the litter layer that’s on the surface of the soil and that then allows direct sunlight to strike the surface and that evaporates water from that soil. In addition to that, there’s a crumb structure of that soil underneath that litter layer and it’s like grape nuts in consistency, and when water comes through that litter layer and goes into that it goes directly into the soil, so it’s no problem. If you take that litter layer away then raindrop action will break up that crumb structure and now it must go through under like a paper towel, in other words, it goes through slowly, so you get an increased run-off. The upshot of all of this, the earlier you burn, the less water you’re going to have for growth of the plants. If you want to get an increased livestock gain, and that’s about 32 pounds on a steer or more depending upon the year, but if you want to get that, you have to burn in the season that you want that gain occur. If you don’t burn, you won’t get it. If you’re in a steer operation in the Flint Hills of Kansas then you burn every year. Now the other issue is, if you’re just trying to use fire as a mechanism for reducing woody species increases in the pasture, then you must burn at least three years in a row at a late spring burn date in order to reduce that woody population. When you burn early, then the plant reaches maturity earlier and the plant actually starts to translocate protein, nitrogen out and back into the storage organs, and that occurs at an earlier time and so the quality is reduced earlier with earlier burns and therefore the cattle don’t gain well under that situation. When we burn, if that smoke from that fire is carried into a metropolitan area then those ozone precursors that are in there will become ozone through sunlight and the situation is that that will then put them above the EPA compliance level, and so it’s not that they aren’t already at the top, they are. They’re right on the level, but ours puts it over. One of the ways that EPA has thought, “Well, we can just reduce that that puts it over there by having them burn when the smoke won’t go across from that metropolitan area,” and so we developed a system that has a model on it that tells a rancher when he burns, where his smoke is going to go. If he can avoid doing that by burning at a different time, and that’s the critical issue is that many times there is no option, then he will use that and we have had a lot of success in getting the ranchers in the Flint Hills region doing that. The ranchers are trying to comply but just due to the fact that we have weather issues that confound it, and wind direction, all of those things, and wind speed, that impact when you can burn, there’s still going to be time when ranchers burn and blows smoke across metropolitan areas, and it’s a fact. As a rancher, in order to exist out there in a profitable manner, I have to burn, and in order to sustain this as a warm season form of grassland it must be burned and so it is a conundrum, I guess would be the way to approach it, in that we cannot not burn. We must burn in order to maintain the system, and in reality we must burn in order to sustain an economic enterprise in the Flint Hills region with steer grazing operations.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.