Fire, Flood and Tillage as Crop Management Tools
Fire is a tool that has been used in farming for centuries.
In nature, wildfires in forests and prairies clear away brush and establish fresh habitat for wildlife. In some pine forests, fire is necessary to free seeds from resin-sealed pine cones to enable the trees to reproduce.
In agriculture, controlled burns are used in forestry, forage and lawn management as well as row crop production.
It is just one of several tools, along with flood and tillage, used in agriculture to manage stubble and straw leftover from the harvest. What tools are used when depend on the crop and the conditions at time of harvest and the farmer's plans for the following season.
In times of drought, farmers can also bale the straw to be sold to livestock producers.
Listen to the audio interview with Dr. Jarrod Hardke below for more information about the use of fire in managing rice and other crops.
Benefits of fire for crop management
- In row crop production, burning clears thatch or straw from corn or rice fields to prepare the field for the next season’s planting.
- Burning can quickly free nutrients such as phosphorus and potassium back to the soil and
- Fire can destroy growing weeds and leftover seeds that could germinate the following season
- Fire can reduce insect pests and crop residue that can serve as overwintering shelter for insect pests.
- Burning issue: Fire as a field prep tool for rice growers
- A few precautions can reduce risks, impacts of crop residue burns
Guidelines for safe burning
The Arkansas Department of Agriculture has a set of guidelines to help ensure a safe burn with minimal impact to the surrounding areas. They can be found here: Arkansas Voluntary Smoke Guidelines.
Learn about prescribed fires in Arkansas and why they are beneficial for forests.
Research is ongoing
The Division of Agriculture is conducting research on other methods of managing stubble to help farmers avoid the expense of adding high-priced fertilizer to the soil and improve soil health.