Smoky skies may save dry crops

The smoke and haze from fires that have blanketed much of the Prairies recently is actually helping crops survive a much bigger problem — drought.

University of Saskatchewan professor Rosalind Bueckert, who studies crop responses to environmental factors, said the smoke lowers temperatures and allows less solar radiation to reach the crop.

Earlier in the season that would affect the rate of crop growth, she said, but would likely only lead to a delay of a couple of days or so in terms of maturity.

Now, it’s helping crops retain the little moisture they have.

“People should be thankful for the smoke because it removes some of the evaporative demand on the crop,” Bueckert said.

She noted that in 2015 when Saskatchewan forest fires were spreading smoke through the agricultural area, that “probably saved quite a few bushels.”

“It’s a complete blessing, believe it or not,” she said.

Most of the smoke this summer has remained high in the air. If it is lower it can deposit ash particles on the plants, similar to the way dust from a gravel road covers the plants closest to the road.

“That can lower crop growth because it affects the gas exchange of the plants,” Bueckert said.

“A crop likes to have nice clean air for proper gas exchange.”

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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