Field Burning: Less smoke with propane

By By Trish Yerges Observer Correspondent August 22, 2012 02:57 pm

Trish Yerges photo Conditions were just right Aug. 15 for several field burnings, including one on Courtney Lane in the Grande Ronde Valley.

In the past three years, propane burning has nearly replaced open burning by the majority of farmers in Union County. 

 Business Secretary Terrie Teeter of the Imbler Rural Fire Protection District is in charge of Union County’s smoke management and burning permits.  She stated that over the past three years, an increasing number of farmers are choosing propane burning over open burning.

 “This year over 99 percent of our farmers do propane burning,” she said.  “We only have eight acres that are scheduled for open burning this year.”

 Propane burning produces less smoke, and this is good news for air quality, but it is more expensive than open burning.  Farmers who propane burn, must usually re-flame the field a second time to achieve the desired effect on the crop. 

 The open burning season extends from June 30 to Sept. 30.  Farmers are required to sign up for field burning before the season starts.  They must also submit land maps to indicate where their fields are located, and Teeter assigns numbers to their fields.  She records all this information on the Smoke Management Log. 

 Permits for open burning are $10 an acre, and $8 of that goes to the state, Teeter said.  The remaining $2 goes to Union County Grass Growers Association.   Propane burning permits are $2 an acre, and that includes re-flaming. Permits can be acquired before 5 p.m. but the burn must be finished or shut down by 6 p.m.

 “August is really a busy month for burning permits,” Teeter said. “When a farmer gets a permit to burn, I have to call the State Forestry Service and tell them the field’s coordinates. I also call 9-1-1 and give them the names of the crossroads where the field is located. That way they will be able to distinguish between a field burning and an actual fire.”

Teeter admits there are times when smoke management can be stressful.

 “The job can be stressful at times, especially when I give permission to burn and then five minutes later, the wind changes directions,” said Teeter. “I have driven out to some fields in those situations to check on things.”

 Ideally, a northwest wind is one of the better winds for field burning, but in the morning a south wind usually blows.

 Teeter’s decision to grant or refuse a burning permit depends on several sources of data, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website, the Department of Environmental Quality’s smoke particle data base and advice from the State Forestry Service’s weather forecaster in Salem. 

 The forecaster calls Teeter each morning at 10 a.m. with a report on wind speed and direction, inversions and other weather factors that may impact field burning. 

 “The forecaster has a hard time forecasting for this valley,” said Teeter. “It’s more difficult to forecast than other places.”

 The DEQ air quality data base gives Teeter current figures on smoke particles in the air. She consults this data base before giving her “go ahead” to a farmer.

 “The DEQ won’t allow us to burn fields if smoke particles in the air measure 7 or above,” said Teeter. “Last Monday it was 10.7 particles — too high to burn.”

 Field burning has an impact on air quality, but “we’re trying to keep it minimal,” said Teeter. “We’re not trying to upset anyone. It’s just part of what farmers have to do.”

 Teeter will not issue burning permits around special events in the county like the Union County Fair, the Cherry Festival in Cove, Cycle Oregon, Hells Canyon Relay or the upcoming Elgin Opera House Centennial Gala.

 Overall, field burning “is a lot better than it used to be,” said Teeter, “and no fires got away from the farmers last year.”

 For more information about field burning permits call Teeter or her assistant Natasha Roberts at 541-534-6625.