How do you know that it’s spring time in eastern Kansas? When farmers and ranchers start to burn their pastures and CRP. The skies can be so smokey this time of year that the sun is pink or reddish during the day. These fires are called prescribed or controlled burns because the farmers and ranchers start them in specific pastures and (try to) control where the fires go.
Burning is done in the Flint Hills of Kansas to help clear out the old, dry, dead grass from the previous year, control the Eastern Red Cedar Trees that come up everywhere here, and to promote new grass growth. The controlled burns also help to control the amount of weeds in a pasture. The Easter Red Cedar Trees are a problem because they pull a lot of water out of the ground and choke out the native grasses. This then reduces the amount of ground available for grazing livestock. They can be very invasive and it doesn’t take long for them to completely take over an area. When pastures are allowed to become overgrown with tall, dry grass or cedar trees they can become a wildfire danger. It is also difficult for new grass to grow.
I grew up in western Kansas (almost to the Kansas/Colorado state line) where there is almost always a drought and it is always dry so very few people burn intentionally. There just isn’t enough tall grass to burn anyway because all available grass is always grazed. Where I grew up, there aren’t really any trees that would be considered invasive, so I am also always amazed at how easy cedar trees grow here because in western Kansas they are purposely planted for wind breaks. Many people actually water them to help them grow! The controlled burns were new to me and still make me nervous every year.
About half of our ground is in a government program called Conservative Reserve Program or CRP. This is when the government pays farmers to leave a field as fallow or plant native grasses. You are not allowed to graze or hay these fields as long as they are in the program unless there would be special circumstances. The purpose behind CRP is to help native species of animals with cover and food and to cut down on erosion. When we moved to our farm the ground was already in CRP so we chose to leave it in the program. When our CRP contract ends we do not plan to renew it. Our plan is to work towards increasing our livestock numbers so that we can better manage the rotational grazing of our ground. Some of our ground is very overgrazed and tired so we plan to give it a longer break when we can start grazing the CRP.
Even though burning makes me nervous, I do enjoy taking pictures of it!