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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Field burning

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Field burning

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Drought, heat, changing winds and the publics microscopic scrutiny could have produced a disastrous field-burning season.

But they didnt.

The people most concerned about the results of the summers agricultural burns, from Chris Kelly of the Environmental Protection Agency to Steve Henderson of the countys Smoke Management Center, agreed that, on the whole, the countys agricultural burning program was successful.

The complaints were fewer, according to the centers records, and Union County employees agreed.

Weve taken a lot less calls than usual, said Shelley Burgess of the county commissioners office.

We had very few complaints in the local EPA office, Kelly said.

Statistics show that the most recent burning season, which ended Sept. 30, produced 100 complaints at the Imbler smoke management office, compared to 132 in 2000.

The number of acres cleared by open burning was down to 1,779 from 3,750 in 2000. Many more acres were burned with propane, 6,867 compared to 3,694 in 2000. In propane burning, a small flame burns close to the ground, often producing less smoke. In open burning, the entire field is lighted and it burns at once, producing a plume of smoke. Under ideal weather conditions, the plume rises straight into the air and dissipates from the valley.

If the winds suddenly die or shift, the smoke can blow into populated areas.

Wheat stubble can be burned outside the grass season, Henderson said, and some acreage has been burned since the season closed. According to the centers figures, during the 2001 season, 492 acres of wheat stubble were burned compared to 1,613 last year.

Grass and wheat straw baling was more popular than in recent years, Henderson said, although he said he does not have statistics about the amount of straw baled. An improved straw market helped Union County farmers.

Drought conditions in many places contributed to the favorable market for grass straw, which can be used as cattle feed, said Darin Walenta, county extension agent.

As is often the case, the biggest problem this year was the ever-changing winds. Daily forecasts from the Oregon Department of Agriculture were somewhat helpful, Henderson said, but winds through the Grande Ronde Valley are difficult to predict.

They were doing the best they could under the circumstances, Henderson said. The forecasts helped some.

Readings from two instruments that measure air quality showed that on most days the air quality in the valley ranged from good to moderate. Kelly said on one day, burning was stopped when the data ram instrument indicated that the air quality was degenerating.

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