The Impact of Wildfire Smoke on North Dakota's Agriculture

Jun 09, 2023


By Jean-Paul MacDonald,

Wildfire smoke poses significant challenges to both human health and agriculture in North Dakota. The extensive coverage of smoke over vast areas for prolonged periods can have detrimental effects on breathing, animal health, and crop productivity.

Sunlight reduction and the formation of ozone, as highlighted by, are among the primary concerns for crops. Sunlight and carbon dioxide are essential for photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy into chemical energy. The decrease in sunlight and the rise in ozone levels, which is essentially oxygen, can negatively impact the agricultural sector.

Interestingly, scientists have observed that wildfire smoke can occasionally diffuse sunlight. This phenomenon scatters the beams of sunlight, allowing them to reach parts of plants or crops that typically receive insufficient sunlight. While this may offer some benefits, it is crucial for farmers to comprehend both the advantages and disadvantages of smoke on their crops.

David Weise, a research forester for the U.S. Forest Service at the Pacific Southwest Research Station, explains that plants rely on photosynthesis to capture the sun's energy for growth. In contrast, fire releases stored energy in the form of smoke. Therefore, understanding the dynamics of smoke's impact on crops becomes essential for effective agricultural management.

Certain crops, such as soybeans, demonstrate better tolerance to smoky conditions compared to others like corn. This resilience can be attributed to soybeans' smaller stature and lower height, enabling them to evade many of the adverse effects of smoke.

To safeguard the agricultural industry, it is crucial for farmers to educate themselves about the various implications of smoke on crops. By staying informed, they can make informed decisions to mitigate potential risks and optimize agricultural productivity in the face of wildfire events.

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