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Controlled burning is a farm management tool that, when used under specifically controlled conditions, will help farmers manage forests and rangelands.
What we mean with controlled burning
Often one would question, why do we have to burn the veld? Veld fires are a common phenomenon in Africa often caused by heavy thunderstorms and lightning. Studies have shown that sustainable and controlled burning is vital for the veld vegetation.
Sustainable burning is defined as fire applied in a skillful manner to woodlands or grasslands in a predetermined place under ideal weather conditions in order to achieve specific farm management objectives.
Often done once in every five to ten years. The removal of old accumulated organic material (moribund) and prevention of bush encroachment are two major reasons why farmers burn the veld (Oudtshoorn, 2018). Ezzey (2015) defines bush encroachment as the increase of woody plant densities such that the natural equilibrium of woody plant layer (trees and shrubs) and herbaceous (grass and forb) layer densities is shifted unfavorable.
When to use “controlled burning”:
- Usually close to the first seasonal rains
- Availability of combustible materials (sufficient moribund)
When to avoid “controlled burning”:
- Veld areas that receive rainfall (<400mm per annum)
- Veld in poor condition (in-sufficient moribund)
Types of fire:
- Cold fire: when the surface of the ground (moribund) is burnt against the wind.
- Hot fire: when clearing the entire veld especially from the bottom of the bush to the crown.
What is the importance of burning in farm management?
- Aids in the reduction of amassed vegetation (dead leaves and wood) commonly referred to as fuel load
- Pre-preparation of land for future farming or cattle rearing
- Improves wildlife habitat as thickened bushes are reduced
- Reduction of competing plant species
- Suppresses the spread of diseases
- Improves grazing land
- Some plant seeds need heat to crack out of the shell in order to germinate (oak seed, for instance)
Before burning what do you need?
- Demarcate area that has to be burnt,
- Clear at-least a one meter track without vegetation to prevent veld fire from burning areas that are not intended to be burnt.
IMPORTANT! Young children ought to be far from the veld when controlled burning is done, also inform the neighboring farms in case the fire surpasses the demarcated area.
Benefits of burning in farm management
- Controlled burning stimulates the rejuvenation of plant species in an area.
- Improvement of soil fertility.
In conclusion, among other farm management assets, as farmers we should practice controlled burning of veld where we are currently farming. Above all, in so doing we revive both the grazing and browse land for the animals kept on these farm as well as ensuring sustainability of the natural resources. The benefits will also reflect on the overall farm management method.
Oudtshoorn-van, F. 2018. 3rd edit. Guide to grasses of Southern Africa. Briza publications. ISBN 978-1-920217-35-8.
Ezzey, P. 2015.