HOW DOES WILDFIRE ASH AND SMOKE IMPACT CROPS?
On June 29th the first in a series of what has turned out to be 116 plus forest fires began in the Saskatchewan/Alberta area. The fire continues to blaze, and is so large NASA says it can actually be seen from space. The smoke and ash has travelled so far from its original source, it has now been spotted hundreds of kilometers away, and there have been public wide statements regarding air quality urging citizens to stay indoors.
As part of Canada lies within a cloud of smoke and ash, farmers’ minds are lying within a haze of their own, in nervous anticipation of what this will mean for their crops.
All fires, whether wildfire or prescribed burn, have the potential to change your fields. In fact, some environments, particularly prairies, savannas, and coniferous forests have evolved to even rely on fire for regeneration purposes. Whether it be the cycling of nutrients, organisms/animals, physical changes, moisture, or temperature characteristics of soil.
We know how fire directly changes our soil and fields like in the case of prescribed burn, but what about ash dust and smoke carried from a distance by a wildfire?
On a basic level, think of the ash as organic matter suspended in the air, composed of most of the basic nutrients plants require. When that ash falls to the surface of your fields it’s taken up by plants in the form of these nutrients. In small quantities this ash can be beneficial and act as a fertilizer. It can contain anything from Potassium, Calcium, and Magnesium to other trace elements depending on what type of plant material was burned.
It’s likely that most farmers have only received a small, fairly insignificant trace of ash and will remain unaffected. Those closer to the actual burn zone will have received the ash in higher quantities and may experience effects consistent with what looks like an over application of nutrients. In addition, a whole other host of chemicals could have been released into the air from the burning of other man-made materials that have a more unfavorable chemical make-up.
So, aside from the ash, how is that smoky haze affecting my crops?
In this particular case, the smoke is actually acting as cloud cover and protecting your crop from harsh temperatures, and the direct impact of the UV rays from the sun. It’s possible that this is preventing what could have been drought conditions.
If my field was affected, will it recover?
Whatever the outcome may be, our environment, the soil, and the species of this region are quite resilient and well adapted to handle fire. If your fields were unfortunately harmed, they most certainly are resilient enough to make a full recovery over time.
At Dutch Openers, our thoughts are with those affected by these forest fires, and sincerest thanks to all the public servants, firefighters, and volunteers involved.
Written and Published by Jessica Kohls, BSc, PgCE – Dutch Biologist