If you were driving across rural North Iowa the last weekend of April, you may have wondered why smoke was clouding the countryside. You may have noticed that many fields and road ditches were burning.
Fires were widespread because conditions were “just right.” That may sound obvious, but there’s more thought and consideration that goes into a “controlled burn,” or a “prescribed burn,” than a person may realize. The reason you see miles and miles of farmland burning on the same day is because the conditions must be “just right” to prevent the fire from burning out of control. There may only be a few hours out of the whole year when conditions are right for a burn.
Wind speed, temperature and moisture must be considered before the match is lit. Land owners and land managers must set fires in the early spring or late fall when the ground is wet, and the air has high humidity. Nesting habits and wildlife habit must be considered. Plus, the plants in the field must be at the right stage of growth or the fire won’t do them any good.
Fire breaks down a lot of dead matter, like leaves and old grasses, that does not easily decompose. As this plant material burns, it makes nutrients available to the soil and promotes future plant growth. Fire also help seed new plants because seeds with a thick outer shell must be broken before the seed can germinate.
Prescribed burning is a conservation practice that promotes healthy soils, helps control brush and weeds, as well as helps control ticks and parasitic worms that might infect livestock that graze the land. Because Enchanted Acres is bordered by a creek and has a natural wetland, I’ve linked to three types of conservation programs that land like this might qualify for:
Because I couldn’t get off work or find help some days when the conditions were “just right” to burn last spring, I found myself up against a deadline to get into compliance last fall. Thankfully, we met the deadline. Plant material was burned off last fall, and the filter strip grew back lusciously this spring as you can see in these photos.
Conservation counts, Iowa! Farmers are making great strides to preserve soil and water quality:
Iowa farmers have enrolled more 1.4 million acres in the targeted, continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Farmers in our state have enrolled almost 15 percent of the U.S. total, which is more than any other state. This program assists with taking environmentally sensitive land out of production by planting long-term, resource-conserving covers to improve the quality of water, control soil erosion and develop wildlife habitat.
Iowa farmers have 413,945 acres of wetlands, which research has shown can prevent an average of 52 percent of nitrates reaching Iowa’s waters.
Iowa leads the nation in the number of conservation buffers, which naturally filter sediment and nutrients out of water.