After the flames: How fire affects soil nutrients

Hundreds of thousands of acres of forest, rangeland and cropland have sadly gone up in smoke this summer in Montana. In addition to the devastating effect on personal property and direct loss of crops and livestock, fire can affect soil properties and soil nutrients. The impact is highly dependent on the fire intensity/duration and the proportion of plant material that is burned. Timber and shrubs will burn hotter and longer with greater impact on soil than range- or crop land. Fast moving grass fires have minimal impact on soil nutrients and soil health compared to slow moving, intense fires in moderate to heavy fuels.

In general, fires reduce the pool of nutrients stored in organic matter, release a flush of plant available nutrients in the short term, and redistribute nutrients through the soil profile. The availability of nutrients, especially nitrogen, is increased after low intensity fires, yet, a portion of nitrogen and sulfur is lost to the air. Although these losses are not trivial and are similar to removal by harvest and losses to wind erosion, they are small compared to the average pool of nutrients in the top six-inches of soil.

Nitrogen can additionally be lost through nitrate leaching, as the burned plant matter creates a large pool of nitrate and few active plant roots are left to take up either the nitrate or soil water. This can have long term impact on the productivity of forest and rangeland ecosystems, but can be minimized or remediated on croplands. The other nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, zinc and manganese are more stable and not lost directly through combustion, but rather through blowing ash, and post-fire soil erosion.

Cropland fires rarely burn hot enough to affect soil organic matter. The bigger concern is loss of surface plant residue, which is very important to reduce wind erosion, and protect against the physical sealing impact of raindrops. Ash particles also contribute to reduced water infiltration as they plug soil pores. All these factors increase the risk of water runoff and soil erosion.

Intense forest and shrubland fires can burn soil organic matter, reducing the pool of nutrients in the soil, soil aeration and water infiltration/retention, and the soil’s ability to hold nutrients coming from ash or fertilizer.

In addition, forest and shrubland fires can create a water repellent layer within the top 2 inches of soil that comes from compounds in the burnt litter, coating soil aggregates or minerals. The depth and thickness of this layer can vary greatly, and it can affect infiltration for several months to years. This layer should not form on grassland or stubble fires.

Fire kills bacteria and fungi at the soil surface but microbes rapidly recolonize from deeper soil layers, except in severe fires where the soil is sterilized several inches deep. Microbial activity can actually increase with the flush of nutrients available after a fire. However, new input of plant material is important to sustain their populations.

Post-fire management includes soil testing to determine nutrient availability, and establishing ground cover where possible. Test for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to calculate fertilizer needs. Because drought preceded fire, it’s likely that many fields have nitrogen that wasn’t used this summer, so less might be needed next spring. When soil sampling burned fields, be sure to select representative sites, avoid areas where there may have been a windrow, bale, or other high accumulation of straw or residue. Spreading manure can be very beneficial post-fire but this is rarely available or reasonable at large scales.

The MSU Soil Fertility Extension website has several publications and presentations on soil testing and calculating fertilizer rates. Contact Clain Jones at or 406-994- 6076 if you have any questions.

Low Stress Livestock Handling Workshops in Western Montana

Low Stress Livestock Handling Workshops feat. Curt Pate to be held in Western Montana 

This is a field-based workshop that will occur in three locations in western Montana. Curt Pate is a renowned stockman who has been leading stockmanship and safety demonstrations, workshops, and clinics for over a decade. The workshop will focus on livestock handling methods that reduce cattle stress, making for safer and more effective cattle movement. Low stress, efficient stock movement can help improve soil health under improved grazing strategies, while also producing a high quality finished product, a win-win!


More details on this workshop and registration is on the Missoula Conservation District website:


Contact the Missoula Conservation District at or 303-3427 with any questions on this event.



Secretary Perdue Statement on President Trump’s Tax Reform Agenda

(Washington, DC, August 30, 2017) – U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today expressed his strong support for President Trump’s tax reform agenda as a great benefit to the American agriculture community. Perdue issued the following statement:

“Just as he has done with excessive and costly regulations, President Trump has focused on the problem of onerous and burdensome taxes. Most agricultural operations are, in fact, small businesses, and the time and costs associated with merely complying with the tax code are impeding American prosperity. Farming is a complex enterprise, as even the smallest operations know, so the attention and financial resources that are diverted to handling taxes are an extra barrier to success.

“People should be able to keep more of what they have earned through the sweat of their brows, which will also invigorate the entire United States economy. The Death Tax is one section of the code that is particularly offensive to agriculture, as too many family farms have had to be broken up or sold off to pay the tax bill. The president’s tax reform package will be of great benefit to agriculture and help improve rural prosperity.”

2017 Pest Management Tour offers Last Chance Credit Opportunities for Private Pesticide Applicators across Southcentral Montana.

The Montana State University (MSU) Pesticide Education Program is offering the Pest Management Tour for pesticide applicators across southcentral Montana, Private Applicator Training (PAT) District 5, from October 2nd – 6th (Figure 1). Private applicators within PAT district 5 should ensure they have attained 6 private applicator credits prior to the January 1st, 2018 deadline to avoid losing their private certification. Applicators can assess their credit information at by selecting “pesticide programs” and “pesticide license search” prior to entering their license number. Applicators can also contact their MSU Extension county office for license information. Private applicators may opt to attend only a morning or afternoon session for 3 private applicator credits; or both for 6 credits. Commercial applicator credits can be viewed on the last page of the 2017 Pest Management Tour agenda at by selecting “Pest Management Tour”.

Speakers will deliver presentations on managing prairie dogs, managing birds, weed management, pulse diseases, pesticide applicator recordkeeping, pesticide drift, herbicide carryover and diagnosing herbicide injury (presentations vary by location). MSU representatives speaking on the tour include Dr. Fabian Menalled (MSU Cropland Weed Specialist), Dr. Jane Mangold (MSU Rangeland Weed Specialist), Dr. Jessica Rupp (MSU Potato, Sugarbeet and Pulse Pathologist), Stephen Vantassel (MDA Vertebrate Pest Specialist), Eric Clanton (MDA District Officer) and Dr. Cecil Tharp (MSU Pesticide Education Specialist). The tour will cover 10 locations in 5 days:

October 2nd

Lewistown, MT: Eagles Club, 124 W Main Street; Pre-register by September 29th with MSU PEP, Amy Bowser at (406)994-5178 or online;

$10 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:30 am. th Hobson, MT: Tall Boys Tavern, 122 Central Avenue; Pre-register by September 26 Basin County Extension, Katie Hatlelid at (406)566-2277 ext.104 or email; $10 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:40 am.

October 3rd

Roundup, MT: Roundup Community Center, 700 3rd Street West; Pre-register by September 27th with Musselshell County Extension, Mat Walter (406)323-2704 or email; $15 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:55 am. th Ryegate, MT: Ryegate Firehall, 107 Kemp Street; Pre-register by September 27 Musselshell-Golden Valley County Extension, Mat Walter (406)323-2704 or email; $15 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:40 am.

October 4th

Billings, MT: Red Lion Inn, 1223 Mullowney Lane; Pre-register by September 29th with MSU PEP, Amy Bowser (406)994-5178 or register online at; $15 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:25 am. th Hardin, MT: Big Horn County Fairgrounds, 118 Sawyer Loop; Pre-register by September 28 with Big Horn County Extension Office, Molly Hammond, (406)665-9770 or email; $5 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:45 am.

October 5th

Columbus, MT: Stillwater County Fairgrounds Pavilion, 328 North 5th Avenue; Pre-register by September 29th with Stillwater County Extension Office, Lee Schmelzer (406)322-8035 or email; No fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:45 am. th Joliet, MT: Joliet Community Center, 209 E. Front Avenue; Pre-register by September 29 Carbon County Extension Office, Nikki Bailey (406)962-3522 or email at; No fee and lunch provided; Starts at 8:35 am.

October 6th

Big Timber, MT: Sweet Grass County Fairgrounds, 78 Fairgrounds Road; Pre-register by September 29th by contacting Sweet Grass County Extension Office, Marc King (406)580-2556 or email; No fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:35 am.
Harlowton, MT: Kiwanis Youth Center, 202 3rd NE; Pre-register by September 29th by contacting Wheatland County Extension Office, Mandie Reed (406)632-4728 ext. 308 or email $15 fee & lunch provided; Starts at 8:55 am.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: See the detailed program agenda online at and select ‘2017 Pest Management Tour’, or contact your local Extension agent for local information. For any other questions contact Cecil Tharp, Pesticide Education Specialist, at the MSU Pesticide Education Program office (406)-994-5067,

Women Stepping Forward for Agriculture Conference Coming to Billings

Make plans now to attend the annual Women Stepping Forward for Agriculture Conference at the DoubleTree Hotel in Billings, Mont., Sept. 26-28, 2017.

This year’s conference is packed with speakers that will deliver information on today’s most pressing topics:  farm safety and disaster preparedness, increasing profitability, women in ag business, self-defense, and media outreach.

Featured speaker Bob Budd, executive director of the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust, will discuss mentorship during his talk, Stolon or Seed: How will you Grow?

Sisters on the Fly, the largest outdoor women’s group in the United States, will tell the story of how they got started and how they have grown. They will have a parking lot party following the presentation.

Closing speaker will be Rebecca Undem, a dynamic speaker and author who will show participants how to get their groove back.

Registration for the conference is $70 prior to Sept. 1 and $90 after that date. Registration information and a full agenda can be found on the Women Stepping Forward for Ag website A special room rate is available at the DoubleTree Hotel until Sept. 5.

Attendees are encouraged to bring a silent auction item from their local area. Auction proceeds are used to support future conferences. Exhibit space is also available.

For more information, contact Tara Becken, conference chairperson, at 406-930-4205 or or visit the Women Stepping Forward for Ag website at or follow on Facebook @womensteppingforward.

Agriculture Secretary Perdue Details Response to Recent Wildfires

Forests and Grasslands in Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies Affected

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today outlined the U.S. Forest Service’s assets and responses to a recent outbreak of extreme wildfires over large parts of the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies.  The fires, affecting forests and grasslands, are burning across Western Montana, Idaho, Northern California, Oregon, and Washington.

“Our courageous USFS firefighters do an outstanding job and are able to catch 98 percent of all fires before they become large fires,” Perdue said.  “To help them, we will make sure firefighters have all the necessary tools at their disposal in order to save lives, property, and our forests.  We will also work hand-in-hand with our federal partners, particularly the Department of Interior, during this aggressive fire season.”

Many different types of equipment and firefighting resources are available to fire managers. As of August 21, 2017, the resources available for wildland fire suppression included:

  • 18,300 total personnel, across all jurisdictions, assigned to fires.
  • 412 crews, 833 engines, and 146 helicopters across all jurisdictions assigned to fires nationally.
  • 27 air tankers assigned to fires nationally.
  • Five military aircraft (three MAFFS and two RC-26s) supporting wildland fire operations.
  • Ten Type 1 Incident Management Teams assigned.
  • 22 Type 2 Incident Management Teams assigned.
  • The National Preparedness Level raised to 5, the highest level, on August 10.

Wildland firefighting is a partnership among federal agencies, state agencies, and local fire departments, with the U.S. Forest Service taking on an important leadership and coordination role. Federal resources are provided for fires across the country, whether fires are on federal, state, tribal, or private lands. So far this season, firefighting agencies have responded to about 42,809 fires across about 6.4 million acres.  The Forest Service, in partnership with state and local agencies, will continue to vigorously respond to wildfires with an array of assets.  The National Interagency Fire Center is constantly reviewing fire conditions in order to position available resources to ensure the fastest response possible.

Perdue has announced that long-time Forest Service employee Tony Tooke will become the new Chief of the agency on September 1, 2017. Tooke replaces Tom Tidwell, whose time as Forest Service Chief capped a 40-year career with the agency.  The selection of Tooke will ensure that there is continuity of leadership as the Forest Service continues its vital mission.

Half a Million Acres Burned in Montana, Cattle Losses Limited

From Drovers:

In Montana almost a half million acres have burned this summer, with more than half of the acreage coming from one wildfire. Fortunately, cattle losses have been limited according to officials with the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that 29 wildfires are currently active in Montana with the bulk of them occurring in the western region of the state, which is predominately forested public land and has fewer cattle. In all there have been 494,526 acres burned by wildfires in the Big Sky State.

The largest fire is the Lodgepole Complex fire in the eastern portion of the state. It is currently at 93% containment and has burned 270,723 acres. Most of the fire in the Lodgepole Complex are just a few hotspots and it should be put out soon, says Jay Bodner, director of natural resources for the Montana Stockgrowers Association.

“Most of the people in the Lodgepole area are starting to get a better handle on things. We did luckily see pretty minimal cow losses from the fire,” Bonder says.

There have been no major reports of cattle deaths from the fires. Some cattle were killed after being electrocuted by a power line that fell in a pasture when electric poles had burnt down. Bonder doesn’t think the death toll would be as widespread as the fires that ravaged the Southern Plains this March.

Montana still has a month or more of wildfire conditions to endure as drought stays in the state. The latest Drought Monitor released on Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center shows 11.87% of the state in the most severe rating of exceptional drought. Only 2.77% of the state is identified as not needing moisture.

Fences must be repaired in wildfire areas and hay is needed in the state as drought conditions continue. As with the wildfires in the Southern Plains there has been an outpouring of support.

Most donation efforts have been directed at the Lodgepole Complex fire victims because there were more grazing acres and cattle impacted by that fire. Garfield County Fire Foundation has received more than $600,000 in fire relief donations thus far.

“We’ve seen significant contributions come in to help livestock producers from not only Montana, but all over the United States,” Bonder says. “It is very much appreciated by everyone in the ranching community.”

The Montana Stockgrowers Foundation has been sending donations on locally to organizations like the Garfield County Fire Foundation. If fires and drought continue to impact producers in other parts of the state the Montana Stockgrowers plans to direct donations to those locations.

Donations can be made directly to Garfield County Fire Foundation by sending a check to:

  • Garfield County Bank
  • PO Box 6
  • Jordan, MT  59337 (
  • Call (406) 557-2201 for details

or send to

  • Redwater Valley Bank
  • PO Box 60, Circle, MT 59215
  • Call (406) 485-4782 for details

To make a general donation to the Montana Stockgrowers Foundation go to the following link.

Drought disaster increased to 31 counties, 6 reservations

From the Great Falls Tribune:

Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order on Friday declaring 31 counties and six Indian Reservations are in drought disaster.

The counties are: Blaine, Big Horn, Carter, Chouteau, Custer, Daniels, Dawson, Fallon, Fergus, Garfield, Golden Valley, Hill, Judith Basin, Lake, Lincoln, McCone, Musselshell, Petroleum, Phillips, Powder River, Prairie, Richland, Roosevelt, Rosebud, Sanders, Sheridan, Treasure, Valley, Yellowstone, Wheatland and Wibaux.

Also included are the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation, Crow Indian Reservation, Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation and the Flathead Indian Reservation.

On July 19, Bullock declared a drought disaster for 28 of Montana’s 56 counties and five Indian reservations.

The newest drought disaster declaration continues the temporary suspension of “hours of service” regulations and waives temporary registration, temporary fuel permits and over-dimensional permit requirements for commercial vehicles providing support for the drought, state officials said.

The declaration also compels maximum employee assistance and cooperation with the United States Departments’ of Agriculture and Commerce to secure timely economic assistance.

As of July 10 small nonfarm businesses in 16 Montana counties are eligible to apply for low-interest federal disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration after Bullock sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting a Secretarial Drought Disaster Designation. Affected counties and reservations are also eligible for the Livestock Forage Program.

Bullock said high temperatures, extreme drought and worsening fire conditions are affecting Montanans in many corners of our state.

“We’re doing everything we can to minimize the economic impact of these hot and dry conditions and help folks get back on their feet using all resources available,” he said.

For more information visit

2017 Cattle Slaughter Up, but Increasing Slower than Last Year

Total cattle slaughter is up 5.9 percent year over year for the year to date.  This follows a 6.4 percent year over year increase in 2016.  However, steer slaughter (which makes up more than half of cattle slaughter) is growing more slowly in 2017 and is up 3.5 percent so far this year compared to 2016.  The year to date increase is declining as weekly steer slaughter has averaged just 1.1 percent year over year increases since late April. Steer slaughter peaked seasonally in June and will trend lower week to week for the remainder of the year. On July 1, the number of steers in feedlots was 1.4 percent above last year and is projected to keep steer slaughter growth relatively low for the remainder of the year.  Total annual steer slaughter may be limited to less than a two percent year over year increase in 2017.

Heifer slaughter is up 10.5 percent so far in 2017.  This compares to a 4.7 percent year over year increase in 2016.  The July 1 heifer on feed inventory was 10.6 percent higher than one year earlier.  Heifer slaughter is likely to remain elevated for the rest of 2017.  Increased heifer slaughter and heifer on-feed inventories likely indicate a slower pace of heifer retention in 2017.  However, average steer to heifer slaughter ratios are still very large compared to historical averages.  It will be some months before heifer slaughter increases to typical levels compared to steer slaughter.  Seasonally, heifer slaughter decreases from a spring peak to lower summer levels before increasing slightly through the third quarter.

So far in 2017, beef cow slaughter is running 10.4 percent above 2016 levels.  This follows a 13.7 percent year over year increase in 2016.  Although increased beef cow slaughter is consistent with slower herd growth, it does not indicate herd liquidation or even zero herd growth.  If beef cow slaughter continues at the current pace (as projected) through the end of the year, net culling for the beef herd will still be under nine percent and less than the long term average culling rate.  The sharp increase in beef cow slaughter in 2016 and 2017 is mostly the result of very low culling during herd expansion since 2014.  More cows in the herd plus previously delayed culling means that a substantial increase in beef cow slaughter is inevitable.  By 2018, herd culling rates may return to typical levels.  Beef cow slaughter typically increases sharply in the fourth quarter to a seasonal peak but is projected to maintain the current year over year levels for the remainder of the year.  Dairy cow slaughter has increased recently bringing the current year to date level up to 3.0 percent above last year.  This follows a 1.0 percent year over year decrease in 2016.

Total cattle slaughter in 2017 is projected to increase 4.5 to 5.0 percent year over year.  Cattle slaughter will likely increase another 3.5 to 4.0 percent in 2018 with larger feeder supplies; less heifer retention; and increased cow culling all pushing slaughter higher through 2018.

 Source: Drovers


North Dakota’s hay lottery will expand to include Montana and South Dakota, with each state to conduct its own drawing beginning in early September.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring credited Ag Community Relief, a Michigan organization, and North Dakota State University for making the relief effort possible.

“We are pleased to open the hay lottery to producers in South Dakota and Montana experiencing drought and wildfire,” Goehring said. “Ag Community Relief, the Michigan organization arranging a large-scale hay donation convoy to North Dakota in mid-August, is fundraising and continues to seek donations and volunteers. We are so appreciative of their efforts. We are also grateful to NDSU for providing the space and staffing to store and distribute the donated hay.”

Greg Lardy, head of NDSU Animal Sciences Department, said the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station is ready to assist producers adversely affected by extreme drought or wildfires.

“We know livestock producers in this region are struggling to find adequate hay supplies for their livestock, and this program is one way we can help them,” he said.

Montana and South Dakota’s state agricultural directors were grateful to be included.

“Donations have been pouring in from throughout Montana to help folks affected by both drought and fire. These people are the unsung heroes of the disaster response and a reminder of how the worst of times can bring out the best in people,” Montana Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas said. “We are proud and grateful to join with Ag Community Relief and our friends in North and South Dakota to get more resources to those affected.”

South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Mike Jaspers agreed.

“With much of South Dakota experiencing drought conditions, the hay lottery is a great resource for producers looking for additional feed for livestock,” he said. “I appreciate Ag Community Relief, all the producers providing hay and the North Dakota Department of Agriculture for making this program possible.”

People wishing to donate hay or provide trucking services can contact the North Dakota Department of Agriculture’s drought hotline at 701-425-8454 for details.

Hay will be distributed in semi-load lots, with the first drawing in early September. If there are additional donations after that date, more drawings will occur. The drawing has been divided into two age categories, 35 and under and 36 and up. Producers selected to receive hay must arrange their own transportation.

Producers in any of the three states who want to apply for the hay lottery can find an application for their state online at The deadline is Aug. 31.

To be eligible, a producer must be from a D2, D3, D4 or fire-affected county and own at least 25 animal unit equivalents of state-specific livestock. A list of eligible livestock and an explanation of equivalents is available on the relevant state’s application. The latest drought monitor information is online at

Questions may be directed to 701-328-4764 or 844-642-4752.

Matt Schaller, president of Ag Community Relief, said the size of the area affected by the drought prompted the hay lottery approach.

“It’s just too hard to pick and choose who receives what hay we can bring,” he said. “This program will give everyone a little hope and let them know that farmers across America are thinking of them. We really hope to see hay come in from all over the Midwest to help those folks in their time of need.”

Source: Renee Jean, Williston Herald