Most of the Upper Midwest is in drought, and that threatens 2021 crops, pasture and hayfields. But drought also increases the danger of wildfire, which in itself poses a serious challenge. A number of wildfires already have popped up this spring across the region.

We can't emphasize enough the need to use common sense and to take proper precautions to minimize the danger. Even a moment of carelessness can lead to huge damage when weather and soil conditions are unfavorable. And with the dry conditions, fires can spark up from something as simple as a spark from metal hitting a rock — which can happen frequently during field work.

Here are a few of the suggestions from Oklahoma State University Extension on preparing farm operations for wildfire. As the organization correctly notes, "The time to be thinking about protecting your home, barns, personal items and land is not as the fire is heading towards your property, but long before smoke is seen or smelled."

  • Determine whether your insurance policy covers wildfire damage. If so, to what extent and to what amount? Depending on specific needs, multiple policies with multiple companies may be needed.
  • Prudent hay storage, including storing it in more than one location to prevent it from all burning at once, can be critical.
  • Taking care of the area around homes and barns can buy extra time in case of a wildfire. That includes trimming lawns, removing tall vegetation, pruning trees and shrubs, and cleaning roofs and gutters of flammable debris.
  • Equipment storage can be important If possible, park equipment on cement pads, bare ground or gravel.
  • Know where to find breaking news and updates from your local media and fire department. And make sure to have important phone numbers — for the fire department, county sheriff and neighbors — easily available.

Be prepared for the possibility of fire. Consider keeping water tanks and discs nearby and ready. Remember: most of our rural fire departments operate mostly or entirely on volunteer labor. Help them out if you can.

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Farmers and ranchers have many things to think about at this time of year; it can be easy to overlook the danger from wildfires. But the threat to the farmland and property of yourself and your neighbors demands serious attention, too.