Rural landowners listen up - U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts signed since Oct.1, 2000 may require a maintenance burn during the life of the contract.

If CRP ground is burned, it can be burned any time between Feb.1 through April 15, said Walt Fick, K-State Research and Extension range management specialist. This means that CRP ground can be burned before most tallgrass rangeland burning begins.

"Burning CRP early is a good way to spread out the burning season in Kansas and help prevent the concentration of smoke in April, when most pasture burning occurs," Fick said.

When burning CRP ground, building good fireguards is essential, he said. Fireguards can either be mowed to a width of 20 to 30 feet or disked. If the fireguard is disked, producers may have to go over the area more than once to make sure all the residue is below ground.

The two most common methods of conducting prescribed burns on CRP ground are a ring fire or a flank fire, he added.

"With a ring fire, the entire perimeter of the field, within the fireguard, is lit. Starting on the downwind side, backfires are started," Fick explained. "The burned area is gradually widened. Eventually, the entire perimeter is lit and the fire then burns in toward the center from all sides. This results in a single large plume of smoke in the middle of the field. The advantages of a ring fire are that it requires less manpower than other methods, and it is quicker. The disadvantage is that it can trap wildlife in the field with no means of escape except flight."

If producers want to avoid trapping and possibly killing animals in the fire, the flank fire is a good alternative.

"In this method, a series of parallel strips of fire are lit into the wind, creating a slow-moving series of backfires," the range management specialist said. "Backfires are hotter than headfires at ground level, and provide a more complete burn of mulch. This method also allows plenty of escape routes for any wildlife living in the field.

"The disadvantages of the flank fire method are that it takes longer to complete, and requires more people to conduct and control the burn. Backfires are also generally less effective at controlling woody plants."

Whatever method is used, one of the most important considerations when conducting a prescribed burn on either CRP or rangeland is to obtain an accurate weather forecast for the proposed day of the burn. The burn should be conducted when conditions for smoke dispersal are optimum, Fick said.

"That means there should be few clouds, with little chance of inversions. Wind conditions should be light and steady (5 to 15 miles per hour), and take the smoke away from highways, airports, or population centers," he said.

CRP participants should check with their local Farm Service Agency office for requirements related to prescribed burning, he added. Also, producers who burn CRP ground should follow the same general safety guidelines and go through the same permit procedures as those who conduct prescribed burns on rangeland.

More information is available on the K-State Research and Extension Web site under: Prescribed Burning: Planning and Conducting (L664) http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/crpsl2/L664.pdf and Prescribed Burning Safety (L565) http://www.oznet.ksu.edu/library/crpsl2/l565.pdf.