MANHATTAN, Kan. -- The calendar says it is time to conduct prescribed burning of Conservation Reserve Program fields across Kansas. However, weather conditions are such that one shouldn't be in any hurry to do so in many areas of Kansas, said Walt Fick, K-State Research and Extension Rangeland and Pasture Management specialist.

Producers can check their local Fire Weather Planning Forecast on the National Fire Weather page, Fick said. The current map shows that much of western Kansas is in the Red Flag Warning area.

"Warm temperatures, low humidity, and/or high-sustained winds dictate that burning is not safe. Fortunately, the window of opportunity for conducting a prescribed burn is wide enough such that one can wait for environmental conditions to improve," he said.

CRP contracts signed since Oct. 1, 2000, may require a maintenance burn during the life of the contract.

"All CRP participants with contracts effective with signup 26 (Oct. 1, 2003) are required to perform a management practice that can include prescribed burning, interseeding, or light disking. Participants should check with their local Farm Service Agency office for actual requirements," the agronomist said.

If CRP ground is burned, it can be burned anytime from Feb. 1 through April 15. The deadline for 2009 has been extended to April 30 for all counties west of a line than runs from Smith County to Barber County, Fick said.

Producers who burn CRP ground should follow the same general safety guidelines and go through the same permit procedures as those who conduct prescribed burns on rangeland.

Detailed information is available in the K-State Research and Extension publications:
Prescribed Burning: Planning and Conducting (L664) and
Prescribed Burning Safety (L565).

One of the most important considerations when conducting a prescribed burn on either CRP or rangeland is to obtain an accurate weather forecast for the proposed day of the burn, Fick said. There are several good broadcast stations for weather information, or producers can access any of several weather Web sites, such as: or

Also, the fire danger index rating can be found online here or here.

The burn should be conducted when conditions for smoke dispersal are optimum.

"That means there should be few clouds, with little chance of inversions. Wind conditions should be 5 to 15 miles per hour out of a consistent direction that takes the smoke away from highways, airports, or population centers," the agronomist said.

A prescribed burn on CRP ground will help reduce the thatch layer that can build up, promote grass tillering, and reduce the potential for wildfire, Fick said. Burning can also help control cedars, and woody seedlings such as cottonwood or Russian olive. Once established, older trees will generally re-sprout after a fire.

Tips for conducting a prescribed
burn on CRP ground

When burning CRP ground, building good fireguards is essential, Fick said.

"Fireguards can either be mowed to a width of 20 to 30 feet or disked. If the fireguard is disked, producers may have to go over the area more than once to make sure the residue is all below ground," Fick said.

Producers must make sure they notify the proper authorities in their county before burning, and obtain any necessary permits, he added.

"They need to be careful not to allow smoke to drift over highways or airports so as to cause visibility problems. And they must make extra sure the fire is out before leaving."

The two most common methods of conducting prescribed burns on CRP ground are a ring fire or a flank fire.

"With a ring fire, the entire perimeter of the field, within the fireguard, is lit, the agronomist said."Starting on the downwind side, backfires are started. The burned area is gradually widened. Eventually, the entire perimeter is lit and the fire then burns in toward the center from all sides. This results in a single large plume of smoke in the middle of the field. The advantages of a ring fire are that it requires less manpower than other methods, and it is quicker. The disadvantage is that it can trap wildlife in the field with no means of escape except flight."

If producers want to avoid trapping and possibly killing animals in the fire, the flank fire is a good alternative, Fick said.

"In this (flank) method, a series of parallel strips of fire are lit into the wind, creating a slow-moving series of backfires. Backfires are hotter than headfires at ground level, and provide a more complete burn of mulch. This method also allows plenty of escape routes for wildlife living in the field. The disadvantages of the flank fire method are that it takes longer to complete, and requires more people to conduct and control the burn. Backfires are also generally less effective at controlling woody plants," he said.

SOURCE: K-State.