Fire! Explaining Prescribed Burning

By Lori Bammerlin, Kansas Agri-Women President

Fire! That word has recently been in the news quite often. However, if you are from Kansas, what do you think of when you hear the word “fire?” The Flint Hills, grazing, wildfires, April, or something else? For most people in agriculture the word ‘fire’ usually means, prescribed fire. Meaning a form of land management in which fire is intentionally applied to vegetation. Prescribed fires are conducted under desired conditions to meet specific objectives. 

Prescribed fire is a form of land management in which fire is intentionally applied to vegetation.

A type of prescribed burning that might be less well known or understood would be growing season burns. These are conducted when warm-season herbaceous plants are actively growing, which is summer to early fall. Benefits of growing season burns  are;  opportunities to complete a planned burn based on objectives, conducting a burn in a less wildfire prone time of year for the Great Plains, and addressing woody plant encroachment to only name a few. 

Let’s discuss the last benefit I mentioned above, woody plant encroachment. Sericea lespedeza is one invasive species, in which growing season burns might be the answer to controlling.  Sericea is an introduced perennial legume native to eastern Asia. According to Kansas State University, Department of Agronomy, “It is recognized for its tolerance of drought, acidity, and shallow soils of low fertility. It does best on clay and loamy soils that are deep, fertile, and well drained, but will also grow on poor sites. It has few insect and disease problems. Sericea lespedeza’s ability to thrive under a variety of conditions and its tendency to crowd out more palatable forages are among the reasons it has been declared a noxious weed in Kansas.” 

By that description, you can see how detrimental serciea lespedeza can be on rangelands and impacting cattle grazing. One of the control methods mentioned by KSU and other research groups is growing season burns (typically August). The key to achieving effective sericea lespedeza control is closely tied to not only when the fire is lit, but is also tied  to consideration of environmental conditions and management techniques. These considerations are why a late summer or fall burn can help control Sericea Lespedeza. I would suggest reading, “ Maximizing effectiveness of growing season burns for sericea lespedeza control.” By KC Olson & Carol Baldwin (linked here) to learn more on how to conduct a growing season burns to help control Sericea.  

As the fall season is upon us and we begin to make our management plans for next year’s crops, whether it be cattle crops, hay crops, or rowed vegetation crops, the word “fire” might be a part of our next growing season strategies. 

Hopefully, this brief summary of information, combined with research findings, will inspire individuals to learn more about the process and benefits of growing season burns, particularly as related to control of sericea lespedeza. 

Prescribed burns during growing seasons can help control invasive species,
such as sericea lespedeza.


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