Fire and Wind Damage to Fields

Fire Damage to Fields

Am grateful for reports of few people hurt, many homes saved, and I think most cattle saved too from Sunday’s fires. I really can’t imagine how all that works with that many firefighters, first responders, and farmers showing up with equipment driving blind into smoke/dust/fires and everyone staying safe, but am grateful. With Sunday’s winds and the fire damage throughout the State, have received questions on what to do next in these damaged fields and what to anticipate for soil impacts. 

For fields that were harvested with residue burned, we’re recommending to get rye or wheat planted into them to potentially get some cover on these fields. I know it’s dry. We keep hoping for moisture with each of these potential rains forecasted (including this week). But if there’s any chance to get some cover, I’ve seen 1″ tall rye produce up to 3″ roots and watched how that size of rye helped this past spring with the winds and in 2019 in helping hold soil during the floods. Rye can germinate down to 32F soil temperature and wheat can germinate down to 39F. So that’s our recommendation. If you have smaller areas where you can get manure on that has any type of bedding in it, that also could help.

A few calling from Nuckolls Co. have wondered about fire damage to long-term no-till. Fire itself won’t damage no-till from the standpoint of the soil structure built. It will remove residue and the organic matter from the residue, but the fire itself doesn’t impact organic matter. Fire and the resulting ash does impact water infiltration as the ash can clog soil pores. Wind erosion can also ‘seal off’ the soil surface which can reduce water infiltration. Thus another reason why drilling a small grain in hopes of disturbing the ash and getting cover established may help.

Nitrogen and sulfur to a small extent are released to the atmosphere during fire, and nitrogen and other nutrients become more available in the soil due to quick mineralization from the fire. Nutrients from the residue will be contained in the ash which can be lost to wind erosion, but those nutrient losses are fairly minimal overall. To read more on soil impacts, see this resource from Montana State. It has an interesting chart showing the amount of N, P, K in the top 6″ of soil and then compares how much is removed from stover that’s harvested or burned. The numbers for residue removal aren’t exactly the same as what we share for Nebraska, but they’re in line. 

Plan on soil testing, may be wiser next spring, to determine nutrient levels in these fields prior to planting. The combination of drought + fire may result in greater nitrogen availability than what one may think.

Fire can often aid grasslands, so would say to let pastures work to recover on their own for now.

I hope all the fields impacted were harvested, but if you have a field that wasn’t, please give me a call and we can talk through that. Ultimately, what we’ve been recommending for fields in this situation in northeast Nebraska has been to harvest the fields as normal and send in grain samples to get a feed value and also quality value. All those fields have been corn fields so far. Dr. Mary Drewnoski has put together information on feeding burned corn that we can share for anyone who needs that.

Wind Damage to Replant Corn Fields

I had been watching different forecasters talking about last weekend for a few weeks. Grateful it wasn’t like they were originally predicting. So last Friday I had popped into fields to see how stalks were holding up. From what I was seeing in the replant corn, I figured a lot of the tops would blow out as plants were quickly losing strength above the ears. Was seeing up to 35% stalk rot (base of plants) in irrigated fields and over 50% in non-irrigated. So far, have seen good shank attachment and ear attachment within the shanks. Grateful for how the ears have held on and the bottoms of plants have held up thus far!

In saying this, it’s honestly a matter of time before these replant corn plants will go down and/or potentially drop ears. I seek to be positive, but I also want to be honest with what I’m seeing. I’m hearing the wind dried corn down compared to last week. Please be checking moistures in your fields. I realize everyone’s situations vary with bins, etc.; it may be wise to keep harvesting a little at a time and drying in between instead of waiting for it to dry in the field this year. 

If you’re willing to share your replant corn test weights anonymously, please do so here:

About jenreesources

I'm the Crops and Water Extension Educator for York and Seward counties in Nebraska with a focus in irrigated crop production and plant pathology.

Posted on October 25, 2022, in Storm Damage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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