Arkansas ag leaders remind producers to follow voluntary smoke program

open-field burning

Call the Arkansas Agriculture Department Dispatch Center at 800-830-8015 before you set fire to a harvested field in the state — photo courtesy Arkansas Agriculture Department

As harvest gets underway, producers in Arkansas are reminded about following the state’s voluntary smoke management program as they prepare to burn crop residue.

At the recent University of Arkansas Rice Field Day in Stuttgart, Extension rice agronomist Jarrod Hardke reiterated the importance of following the voluntary smoke guidelines. It applies to burning any crop residue and not just rice, he says.

The smoke management program is simple. Before you set a field on fire, call the Agriculture Department Dispatch Center at 800-830-8015 to report your intentions.

You may told that it’s OK to burn, or you may receive a recommendation to only burn between a specific timeframe during the day when atmospheric conditions are conducive to dissipating the smoke.

If the winds are blowing toward a populated area or if too many producers have already registered to burn in a particular air basin, the dispatch center may recommend against burning that day.

The state’s producers have only to look to California to see what can happen if they don’t follow a voluntary smoke management program and get their open-field burning under control.

“If we don’t make an active attempt to manage this issue, it will likely be managed for us,” Hardke told Rice Farming magazine in 2018.

Other smoke management recommendations include:

• DO NOT BURN if winds exceed 15 mph.

• DO NOT BURN if humidity is below 20%.

• DO NOT BURN when the wind direction could send smoke directly into roadways or communities.

• DO NOT leave your fire unattended.

Read more about the “Arkansas Voluntary Smoke Management Guidelines for Row Crop Burning.”

Why the need for the program

Prompted by complaints from urban residents as well as pediatricians, nearly a dozen Arkansas agricultural groups met during the 2017-2018 winter to develop a voluntary smoke management program for farmers. Among those were the Arkansas Rice Federation, the Arkansas Agriculture Department, Arkansas Soybean Association, University of Arkansas and the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

Arkansas’ voluntary smoke management program was patterned after one already in existence for the timber industry.

In California, the Connelly-Areias-Chandler Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act of 1991 phased out open-field burning of rice straw as of 2000. The state legislation was the result of multiple complaints, including many from pediatricians, about health issues related to smoke in the fall. The Sacramento Valley, where the bulk of rice is grown, is prone to fall weather inversions that can trap smoke in the lower atmosphere.