Fires Scorch No-Till Profits

A no-tiller’s investment in crop residue can go up in smoke during field fires, but some steps can be taken to soften the blow

As a no-tiller, you know crop residue is crucial to the success of the system. It protects the soil against the forces of wind and water erosion, provides food for earthworms and microorganisms and holds valuable nutrients.

Yet it’s hard to assign a monetary value to crop residue. Hopefully, you’ll never have to. However, field fires are a regular occurrence for no-tillers, says Purdue University agronomist Pete Hill.

“It’s a regular situation in spring,” he told attendees at the 4th annual National No-Tillage Conference.

As the number of no-till acres increase, so do the number of fields at risk for fire, according to Hill. People who leave backyard burning barrels unattended or roadside ditch fires are common fire causes. It doesn’t take much for a no-till field to go up in smoke, especially a cornfield.

“Residue is a tremendous fuel,” Hill says, “especially in dry periods or when there’s low relative humidity.”

In the fall of 1995, which was very dry throughout the Midwest, there were 15 field fires reported in Hill’s local newspaper during a 2-day period.

“That crop residue is worth a lot of money,” he says. “Think about how it conserves soil and improves the soil’s physical properties. It really does have a dollar value, but we’re at a stage where we just don’t know enough about it, so you see anywhere from $30 to $150 an acre being asked by farmers who file an insurance claim.”

125 Bushels On The Ground

Hill gives the example of…

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