There are often many questions surrounding the practice of burning pastures and hayfields. Let’s look at the more frequently asked.
Is it a good idea to burn my hayfield?
There are several benefits to burning your hayfield. Burning can help producers manage thatch in their stands. If the thatch layer becomes too thick over time, several issues can be created. For example, this past year in my area, leaf spot diseases were severe in numerous hayfields. Thatch can tie up nutrients and be a “spore reservoir” for leaf spot diseases. Thick thatch layers can also hinder or delay green-up, reduce water infiltration into the soil and make the establishment of winter annuals a challenge. Other benefits of burning include improving the first cutting of hay and managing spittlebugs. If you would like more information on leaf diseases, it can be obtained below.
When do I need to burn off my hayfields?
The optimal time of year to burn is just before spring green-up. Producers that choose to burn early could face the challenge of an early flush of weeds. If the hayfield is burned after green-up, then early season growth can be suppressed, resulting in a loss of yield.
Do different bermudagrass varieties respond differently?
Producers need to know that varieties such as Tifton 85, Tifton 78, and Coastcross can be damaged by burning due to being more stoloniferous. These varieties do not produce an extensive root system. It is suggested that you burn these varieties with a head fire rather than a backfire. A backfire burns into or against the wind, resulting in a slower, hotter fire. If a backfire has to be used on these varieties, then consider initiating the burning operation early in the morning or right after the rain. These management tactics could result in a cooler, less injurious fire. Bermuda grass varieties such as Alicia, Coastal, and Russell are more rhizomatous, thus making them more tolerant to burning.
Can I just light the match whenever I want, or do I need to let somebody know?
Producers need to find out about permits and restrictions before burning. Please contact your local county Extension agent. They can help with obtaining that information if needed.
What else do I need to know about burning my hayfield?
Please take no chances with dealing with fires and have a plan. A person in charge or fire boss needs to be appointed. Producers need to establish fire lanes to manage the burn. Firelines need to be at least 6 feet wide around the field that is going to be burned. Consider plowing a 10 to 12-foot fire lane if you are dealing with fields in the 5 to 10-acre range or larger. A fire lane can be made wider by using a backfire. Producers need to watch the local weather before implementing a prescribed burn. Please pay attention to wind direction, speed, and moisture to ensure that the fire does not jump the fire breaks. According to several references, it is not suggested to burn if the wind speed exceeds 10 to 12 mph. Wind direction is a factor to consider during the planning process. Hay producers need to avoid burning during times when the wind could potentially blow smoke in the direction of houses or roads. Burning is a cheap and effective means of removing thatch and managing foliar diseases and weeds in bermudagrass production. If this is utilized, please have a plan so it can be used effectively. A great resource to study for planning a bermudagrass burn is Dr. Don Ball’s Use of Fire in Bermudagrass Management
If you have any questions about this subject, please contact your local county Extension agent.