Most farmers are already familiar with fire as a land management tool, and that experience could come in handy in improving a stand of CRP, said Ben Schole, who farms north of Hooper. "We've all set fire to a gully or something like that before. The big difference with CRP is the amount of fuel present and the amount of heat it produces," he said.
Ben Schole of Hooper tests the drip torch he uses for prescribed burning.
Timing the burn is important, according to Schole. "You don't want to burn CRP too early in the spring. You want to set those cool-season grasses back, and the more aggressively they are growing at the time of the burn the more you are going to accomplish that. And you don't want to burn the whole thing at once. Burn one-third or so each year," he said.
Schole stressed the importance of getting a burn permit from the local fire district. The recommended conditions for burning are printed right on the permit, such as the maximum wind speed and the maximum air temperature.
"It says right on there on my permit that burning is a privilege, not a right. If people abuse that privilege, they can take it away completely. It's real important that farmers cooperate with their fire districts," he said. He also stressed that the CRP management plan for those acres should include "occasional burning." If it's not there, amend your plan, Schole advised.
Schole offered a check list, of sorts, for landowners preparing for a prescribed burn on a stand of CRP. They include:
Disk around the entire burn area and water it down, even upwind of the head fire. Pay special attention to the areas between the burn area and the parts you don't want to burn.
Water down anything you don't want burned, especially utility poles.
Make a wide backburn area by burning into the wind gradually inside the disked perimeter. Fire burns faster going uphill. Don't count on an uphill backfire to be a slow fire. Plan 90 per cent of your time for these first three points. The head fire goes fast - 10 or 20 minutes.
Get at least five helpers, and burn before neighbors get busy with planting. Most CRP is hilly, and it takes extra people to keep track of what's happening on the other side of the hill.
Keep the tractor and disk available. If the fire jumps the fire line you can disk over it and not have a problem with the heat.
Burn in the morning or early afternoon when wind speed and temperatures are usually lower. Watch weather reports to see if wind shift is a possibility.
Have dust masks and goggles available in case you have a problem with the smoke. The intensity of the heat is the biggest surprise.
Keep a cell phone handy.
Have one or two 4-wheelers with sprayers aboard and a tractor with a sprayer and a couple hundred gallons of water.
Following the specifications for wind and temperature on the burn permit is vital, according to Schole. On a hot day, the fire's updrafts can lift burning embers high in the air and wind can carry them 200 yards or more to start unwanted fires, he said.