Learn how to protect your farm from wildfire

Typical agricultural settings and certain farming practices can increase a farm’s risk for wildfire.

Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) estimates that nearly 10,000 wildfires occur annually throughout the state. As can be expected, many of these wildfires occur in rural areas of the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula where large tracts of forested land exist. Agricultural land is often located nearby or adjoining these forested tracts and many farms have forested acreage of their own.

The wildfire problem has been increasing nationwide in recent years and is predicted to continue to grow with experts citing a lack of natural fire in the ecosystem, development pressure, and climate changes as some of the contributing factors. Additional hazards are often found in agricultural settings. The Firewise program at Michigan State University Extension has developed presentations and handout materials to alert farmers to these hazards and provide steps they can take to reduce their wildfire risk.

Common farmstead hazards include:

  • Older, highly flammable wooden farm structures often in close proximity to one another
  • Composting and storage of flammable liquids, hay and livestock bedding
  • Open burning for crop management as well as for trash/debris removal
  • Livestock corralled or fenced and thus unable to escape a fire
  • Remoteness from fire departments and water supplies for fire fighting

Developing a fire management plan for your farm is key. The plan can identify your agricultural fire uses, best practices for these uses, and applicable state or federal regulations that may apply. Before you are confronted with an unexpected wildfire, create a plan to prepare for, respond to and recover from wildfire. Whether your farm operation includes livestock, crops or both, having a plan will help keep your family, farm employees, livestock, crops and property safe from wildfire.

Your fire department may not be able to immediately assist during a wildfire event. Having an emergency pre-plan, action plan and recovery plan is the best way to prepare for a fire on your farm. Learn to recognize “fire weather” and where to find the fire weather forecasts for your area. Take time now to create fuel breaks, water supply points, designate livestock evacuation and safety areas, and apply recommended Firewise principles to your property. These actions will help insure your farm’s survival should a wildfire occur.

During a wildfire event itself, utilize farm equipment such as tractors, plows, sprayers, pumps, and irrigation systems to defend against the fire. If you have farm employees, make sure they are trained in advance how to respond to wildfire on your farm.

Surprisingly, once a wildfire has passed, there are still risks that can affect your farm’s future. Soil erosion is often one result of wildfire that may negatively impact your current or future crops. Watering crops immediately after exposure to wildfire has been found detrimental as moisture mixed with ash can pH-shock certain crops, affecting their production for years. Wine grapes can absorb smoke and when mixed with unaffected fruit can “smoke taint” wine products.

One excellent way to reduce your wildfire risk and be environmentally responsible at the same time is to become involved in the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) oversees this completely voluntary, innovative and proactive program. Farms of all sizes and commodities can enroll. The program strives to prevent or minimize agricultural pollution while reducing a farmer’s legal and environmental risks.

The MAEAP website provides contact information for the MAEAP water steward technician in your area, the MAEAP verifier for your region of the state and other useful information about the program.

For more information about educational resources available through MSU Extension’s Firewise program, visit their website or contact project director Elaine Bush at bushe@msu.edu

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