Hot Question: Why can farmers still burn in their fields?

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Hot Question: Why can farmers still burn in their fields?

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Feb 18, 2011 9:45 pm

Hot Question: Why can farmers still burn in their fields?

By Carol Ferguson, Eyewitness News

Story Created: Feb 17, 2011 at 6:29 PM PST
Story Updated: Feb 17, 2011 at 6:29 PM PST

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — As the San Joaquin Valley struggles to clean up serious air pollution, farmers are still allowed to burn in their fields. The sight of plumes of smoke raises questions for residents, but growers say they face lots of restrictions and do a lot less burning.

"When we do a burn, it's because of a special problem we have, and it has to be on a 'burn day' when fire places are OK," grower Don Davis told Eyewitness News. He walked through an almond orchard near McFarland and ticked off a batch of rules growers have to follow.

"We're not allowed to burn prunings in almonds, that's been banned and we've switched to chipping," he explained. Davis said additional restrictions have come on, as technology gives growers alternatives. New, smaller chipping machines mean growers have a way to dispose of the branches they prune.

Farmers were brought under burn restrictions in 2003, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Davis said he can still burn trees that die in an orchard. He has to pull them aside, pile them up, and apply for a special permit to burn. Even after a permit is approved, growers face more regulations.

"They put us on a waiting list and they tell us when the weather is clear, and we've got air moving through the valley to carry the smoke out of the area," Davis said.

Air district spokeswoman Jamie Holt responded to questions from Eyewitness News in an e-mail. She said not only has there been a decrease in the emissions from agriculture burning since 2003, but they limit those emissions to days "when they will have the least impact on overall air quality."

According to data provided by the air district, in 2003 there were 3,275 agriculture burns in Kern County. Last year, that number dropped to 2,202.

However a viewer told Eyewitness News he still worries that there could be farm chemicals in the smoke from these burns.

"Maybe in parts per billion," Davis responded. He said agricultural chemicals are highly diluted before they're applied to crops. He asserts the sprays end up being 99 percent water.

Davis said a lot of burning used to happen before the rules went in. He used pruning in almond orchards as an example.

"The work where we go in and deliberately cut the tree, almost all of that was burned on every acre all through the valley," Davis said. That has changed.

Statistics provided by the air district also outline changes to air pollution in Kern County in recent years. For carbon monoxide for example, there were 5,941 tons in 2003. That went down to 1,644 tons in 2010.

Davis said growers are working to reduce burning even more, and the air district is working with them to make sure the regulations don't shut down growers' business. "They're phasing these rules in as we can afford them," he said.

Davis said some material like chipped-up trees are now shipped to co-generation plants where they're used to produce electricity. And growers expect there will be more technology to provide alternatives to burning.

Should agriculture burning be totally banned?

"They're working toward it, they're hoping they will," Davis said. "They've got to get some way that it's economic that the farmer can afford to do it."

• The Surgeon General has determined that there is no safe level of exposure to ambient smoke!

• If you smell even a subtle odor of smoke, you are being exposed to poisonous and carcinogenic chemical compounds!

• Even a brief exposure to smoke raises blood pressure, (no matter what your state of health) and can cause blood clotting, stroke, or heart attack in vulnerable people. Even children experience elevated blood pressure when exposed to smoke!

• Since smoke drastically weakens the lungs' immune system, avoiding smoke is one of the best ways to prevent colds, flu, bronchitis, or risk of an even more serious respiratory illness, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis! Does your child have the flu? Chances are they have been exposed to ambient smoke!
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