Story: Fire and agriculture

Page 5. Burning in modern agriculture

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Today, burning is often seen as wasteful, and a sign of lax management. It is no longer a part of land management, for several reasons.

Restricting fires

From the mid-1940s catchment boards increasingly controlled the use of fire. In 1989 they were disbanded, and their role was taken over by the newly formed regional councils, which still restrict burning.

New methods of land management

Farmers now have other ways to control vegetation and manage the land. Burning is no longer needed because:

  • fertilisers make pastures more productive
  • pasture plants are improved
  • more intensive subdivision of farmland, and more intensive and controlled grazing restricts the opportunities for weed invasion and establishment.

Debate over stubble-burning

Perhaps the most controversial burning in agriculture today is used in cropping systems, where farmers burn stubble after harvesting cereal crops. Opponents of the practice claim that it is wasteful and pollutes the atmosphere. They argue that it is better for the environment to bale the cereal straw, rather than burn it, and plough in the stubble so it will break down, increasing the humus content of the soil.

However, some farmers claim that there is only a limited demand for baled straw, and that in the process of breaking down, the ploughed stubble uses up soil nitrogen needed for the next crop. They also argue that burning destroys harmful bacteria, fungal spores and insect pests, which could cause disease in future crops.

How to cite this page:

Robert Peden, 'Fire and agriculture - Burning in modern agriculture', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/fire-and-agriculture/page-5 (accessed 23 September 2019)

Story by Robert Peden, published 24 Nov 2008