K-State Research and Extension

K-State researchers continue to look at the best ways to burn native grasslands to help cattle producers achieve their management goals. In 2011, approximately 1 million head of cattle added about $30 million to the Kansas economy.

PHOTO: Chase County agent Mike Holder (left) looks at grazing land with sheriff Rich Dorneker, whose office helped manage the county's smoke management plan.

Evaluating the First Year of the Smoke Management Plan

Kansas has taken an important first step toward resolving a nearly decade-long discussion between urban and rural residents over smoke from prairie fires. 
 
legislative report>Smoke ManagementThe Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan was released by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) in December 2010 to help guide prescribed burning on the state’s prairie land. 
 
In 2003, KDHE reported that smoke from annual fires — to control woody plants in grassland and maintain the ecosystem for wildlife — was contributing to poor air quality in Kansas City and other areas to the east. 
 
The plan "may have seemed to come together quickly," said Tom Gross, chief for the Bureau of Air and Radiation at KDHE, "but there was a lot of lead-up time prior to its release last year."
 
In fact, 13 state and local organizations were involved in writing and implementing the plan, according to the team’s website www.ksfire.org
 
The plan debuted in spring 2011, encouraging land managers to monitor weather forecasts — particularly wind speed and direction — when planning an annual burn. Officials also implemented restrictions on open burning during April in Johnson, Wyandotte, and Sedgwick counties as well as the Flint Hills region. 
 
"I think we made a difference; we certainly raised awareness about prescribed burning," said Jeff Davidson, Greenwood County agriculture and natural resources agent. "I was pleased with the number of phone calls I got from people looking at the website and wanting to do things right."
 
About two-thirds of the country's remaining tallgrass prairie is in the Flint Hills. Because of that, K-State researchers continue to look at the best ways to burn native grasslands to help producers achieve their management objectives. In addition to best practices for controlling the flow of smoke to populated areas, they are helping to preserve historically significant grasslands. 
 
They also know that projects like the smoke management plan take years of research to fully realize their effects. For example, the Konza Prairie Long Term Ecological Research project, funded by the National Science Foundation and a key K-State initiative to preserve grasslands worldwide, is in its 31st year. 
 
The annual burns knock out invasive woody plants and other growth that interfere with maintaining healthy grasslands for grazing cattle. 
 
"Burning the prairie is critical in my business; it just basically has to be done," said rancher Jack Lindamood, who manages nearly 350 head of cattle in Greenwood County. 
 
In nearby Chase County, about 300,000 acres are burned each year. Agent Mike Holder says that area has the "cleanest grasslands in the Flint Hills. 
"It’s that way because of grazing and burning and the fact that producers follow those two practices correctly," he said. "We’ve got a big part of the ecosystem. If we don't burn it, we lose the ecosystem." 
 
The Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan was not without hitches in 2011. Air quality monitors in urban areas exceeded national air quality standards on four days during April, the peak burning season. 
 
"An awful lot of that is related to how many good weather days we had for burning last year," said KDHE’s Gross. "When you have a smaller number of those days — as was the case in Kansas last spring — you are probably going to have more exceedances."
 
Carol Blocksome, 785-532-0416, blocksom@ksu.edu 

 

Pollution Prevention
K-State's Pollution Prevention Institute has updated and improved its online water-quality tools that help a business assess the environmental risks its site and operations may pose to surface water and groundwater quality.
 
This can minimize risk to on-site or community drinking water sources.
 
The tools are available at www.sbeap.org/resources/water-quality for such businesses as agricultural service centers, parking lots, RV parks and campgrounds, veterinary clinics, and fairgrounds. 
 
Barb Johnson 785-452-9456, barblj@ksu.edu 
Biomass from CRP
In 1985, USDA created the Conservation Reserve Program to take land out of crop production and put it into perennial grassland to conserve soil and reduce surface water runoff.
 
Kansas had about 3 million acres in CRP land in 2008; however, by the end of 2011 about 50 percent of those contracts expired.
 
With sponsorship from the U.S. Department of Energy and the Sun Grant Initiative, K-State researchers are studying whether CRP land can effectively supply feedstocks for the biomass market.
 
Keith Harmoney 785-625-3425, kharmone@ksu.edu 

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Tours Prove Valuable
K-State Research and Extension held wheat plot tours at seven locations. Forty-seven of the 176 attendees completed surveys.
 
Based on the wheat disease identification scoring, 85 percent of those attending increased their knowledge of the major wheat diseases and management strategies.
 
Survey respondents estimated that the program substantially increased their farm profitability and net income. 
 
Todd Whitney 785-243-8185, twhitney@ksu.edu