Understanding the Threat, Signs of Damage, and Protective Measures
By Jean-Paul McDonald
Photo Credit: Pexels Ben Mack
Wildfire smoke can be a major threat to crops. The smoke can contain harmful pollutants that can damage plant leaves, reduce crop yields, and hinder the process of photosynthesis.
With the wildfires in Canada, as well as local wildfires putting crops potentially at risk we thought we would share these tips.
Signs of Smoke Damage to Crops:
The signs of smoke damage can vary depending on the specific crop and the severity of the smoke exposure. However, there are some common indicators that farmers should be aware of. Admittedly, they are rather obvious signs that something is wrong.
Protecting Crops from Smoke Damage:
- Yellowing leaves. When cash or commercial crops are exposed to smoke, their leaves may exhibit wilting or yellowing. This discoloration is often an early warning sign of smoke damage.
- Reduced growth. Smoke damage can cause a noticeable slowdown in the growth of cash crops. Farmers may observe plants that are not reaching their expected height or size within the usual timeframe.
- Stunted development. In severe cases of smoke exposure, cash crops may experience stunted development. This means that the plants are unable to reach their full potential in terms of size, structure, and overall maturity.
- Reduced yields. Perhaps the most concerning sign of smoke damage is the reduction in crop yields. Farmers may witness lower productivity and a decrease in the quantity and quality of harvested produce.
- Plant early maturing varieties of crops. Early maturing varieties will have less time to be exposed to smoke, reducing the risk of damage. While crops are already planted for this year, we include this tip for future reference, especially if you are in an area that is prone to wildfires.
- Use irrigation to keep plants hydrated. Watering helps to flush out pollutants and protect leaves from damage.
- Apply foliar sprays to protect leaves from smoke. There are several commercial foliar sprays that can help to protect leaves from smoke damage.
- Avoid using herbicides or pesticides that can stress plants. Stressed plants are more susceptible to smoke damage.
- Monitor the air quality and adjust management practices as needed. You can access local air quality reports or use specialized monitoring equipment to stay informed about the smoke levels in your region. Based on these assessments, you can adjust your management practices accordingly, such as altering irrigation schedules, modifying crop protection strategies, or implementing temporary protective structures like netting or shade cloth.
By following these tips, you can help to protect your crops from smoke damage and ensure a healthy harvest.