Rep. Paul Holvey puts field burning on the agenda

Some legislators - led by Rep. Paul Holvey (D-Eugene) - have started talking about putting field burning on the 2007 legislative agenda. In the Register-Guard:

[Holvey] said he's got a bill in the works to ban field burning, which some grass seed farmers in northern Lane and Linn counties use to get rid of straw after harvest. ...

Rep. Terry Beyer, D-Springfield, Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene - plus statehouse candidates Nancy Nathanson - a Democrat - and Bill Eddie - a Republican - said they all want the Legislature at least to take a look at the issue....

"The cost to the public and the cost to our planet far outweigh any benefit that they're getting from field burning. They're affecting a huge population for the benefit of a very few," [Holvey] said.

How much field burning goes on?

Each year between July and October's end, about 200 Willamette Valley grass seed growers use fire to sanitize their fields and get rid of straw. As of Oct. 1, they had burned 48,285 acres, and the season isn't over until the heavy fall rains come.

What does this mean for folks in the burn zone?

People exposed to the smoke report burning eyes and irritated throats. Those with respiratory diseases sometimes experience flare-ups and must seek medical attention. "You have kids with asthma or you have health conditions caused by this burning. It's really bad, particularly at the end of the valley down here," Holvey said.

Read the rest. Discuss.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    Do these people have PR advisors? Why do progressives and Dems want to kiss off the farm vote a few weeks ahead of the election? (See Snake River dam removal post below) Has someone done a study to conclude that the asthmatic voter base is more Dem leaning than the agricultural voter base? Holvey's seat is probably safe in Eugene, but this sort of stuff does not help Dem candidates in more contested races.

  • Farmer Brown (unverified)

    Raising the cost or difficult of doing business in this region in a post-M37 world hardly sounds progressive. Sure we can further regulate or even get rid of field burning - we'll just have housing developments where the fields used to be.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)

    I can still remember 20 or more years ago how Portland would become inundated with heavy, acrid smoke from the Willamette Valley grass field burning. Since that time, regulations have ended that pollution, at least in Portland. It would be a shame to allow that to happen again.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    Grass seed is an extremely important export crop for Oregonian. Does anyone know what the options are to field burning and what the cost burden is?

  • Dave Lister (unverified)

    Ooops... that should read "Oregonians".

  • Righty (unverified)

    Well, this will give the farmer's two options.

    ONE - they can continue growing crops and use pesticides to kill the bugs and large amounts of fertilizer.

    TWO - they can quit farming, develop their land and fire, the workers.

    You lefties need to be a little more thoughtful before throwing about legislation. This will hurt Oregon's workers and the environment.

  • jrw (unverified)

    Yeah, and just how many of those supporting field burning ever lived in the Eugene-Springfield area during the height of the field burning season thirty-some years ago?

    One of the reasons I have reactive airway syndrome, asthma and hay fever is due to the joys of the field burning season. I remember the days when the air was so thick with smoke it was like a heavy fog.

    Also, any of you care to remember the chain-wreck accident on I-5 near Corvallis a few years ago which was caused by smoke from field burning?

    There are options, there are ways to manage it, and one issue to keep in mind is that the major field burning air pollution and air advisory problems lie in the south end of the Willamette Valley due to the air flow and elevations within the Valley.

    Eugene is at the closed, low end of the Valley and the air flow just drives it all down that way. Even with the wind management games they play, it doesn't always work out (and it was just my luck that I lived in the Mohawk Valley, where the smoke got blown by the wind over the Coburg Hills when the air flow was right to clear it out of Eugene).

    The Grande Ronde Valley in Eastern Oregon lacks some of these issues.

    Additionally, I know of at least one farmer in Eastern Oregon making a tidy little profit on land where grass seed is just part of a rotation including carrots and a rather nice-quality hay which is a mix of beardless wheat, peas, vetch, alfalfa and a couple of other things. It makes high-quality horse hay, which is one of the priciest hays on the market (unlike cows, horses can't be fed hay with any mold because it causes major illnesses, and good horsemen tend to be picky about hay protein content and quality. Good cattlemen are, too, but there are hays out there you can't feed to horses that you can feed to cows, and the cow hay market is broader than the horse hay market).

    BTW, my source on this is the middleman who buys the hay from the farmer and sells it to the barn my horse is at.

    Those who are kneejerking against this concept aren't thinking. "No-till" practices have been used on the East side for years to reduce soil erosion. As far as I know, burning isn't necessarily effective in keeping the dust levels down.

  • (Show?)

    Some field burning facts as of 2001:

    "only 11 percent of the Willamette Valley's grass seed crop acreage is now managed by open field burning"

    "only 3 percent of perennial ryegrass acres, and only 1 percent of tall fescue acres were burned in 2001. These two species (our largest acreage grass seed crops) account for 66 percent of the total seed acreage in the Willamette Valley, yet only received 15 percent of the total number of acres burned"

    More from 2005.

    According to that info from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, there are some grass species it isn't economically feasible to grow if you can't burn the fields you grow them in but only about 30% of the current burn acreage consists of those species.

    The cost of field burning does not include only the costs incurred by the farmers who burn fields. The costs of the resultant air pollution are also real costs, they are just being borne by a lot of people who don't profit from shouldering them.

    I've spent many an hour on windrowers and combines. I have an old John Deere hat somewhere with some of the green plastic mesh slightly melted and smelling faintly of burnt hair from some grass field burning escapades of my own. Nevertheless, I know field burning has to go at some point.

    I don't know if now is the time for a total ban or not, but the legislature certainly should look at the issue periodically and push toward that goal as fast as it is economically feasible.

  • Sid Leiken (unverified)


    Nice to see a post that is not a knee jerk reaction. I look forward to Rep Holvey's solutions on this as I am sure he has researched this and is coming up with one.

  • postcards (unverified)

    Thank you, jrw and Doretta.

    Yes, grass growers make a profit from growing grass: Gross sales, minus costs of doing business = profit.

    What they don't pay for, it's true, are people diseases, discomforts, over the counter health aids, and medical bills, caused by their field burning.

    These farmers are injuring people!

    When I lived in Kaiser, Oregon (just north of Salem), not only did I nearly cry -- and sometimes really did cry -- about this time of year because I missed out on the beautiful weather when I could have been sitting out in my beautiful yard, or sitting next to the Willamette River a few blocks away -- but I also had a splitting headache from the heavy, red smoke every, single year, every day that the fields burned.

    I count my blessings, now that I've been in Portland for over 10 years, that I no longer get these headaches! But I'll never forget how angry and sick this smoke made me, and how cruel that I missed the most beautiful time of year. (And of course I knew very well I was not the only person who suffered! There were constant letters to the Salem Statesman-Journal, and opinion columns, and editorials!)

    I've been a member of the American Lung Association of Oregon for many years, and wish every success to Rep. Holvey and others with their efforts to ban field burning. (Yes! the time IS NOW. We have waited way, way too long already! May there be plenty of Legislators this year who are not intimidated -- or bought -- by the lobbyists for the grass farmers, and their allies!)

    I'm sure there are other strains of grasses, or other methods, as Doretta and jrw have suggested, that the farmers can use.

  • MsBlue (unverified)

    Grass seed farmers collect Oregon Polution Control Tax Credits so they don't need to burn, and then still burn if they want to under current law. We help pay for their barns and tractors so they can use alternate approaches to burning, and they still choose whatever approach works best for them. The Polution Control Tax Credits are up for extinction or change this coming session.

  • Ken H (unverified)

    Hmmm Just thinking, Who came first? the farmers or the people? I would bet that most of the people moved in after the farmers. Same old story, move next to the pig farm complain about the stink. move next to the race track, airport, shooting range, complain about the noise. My point,if you moved in after the farmers grow up and deal with it, or move out to a area thats suites you better.

  • (Show?)

    "Who came first? the farmers or the people? I would bet that most of the people moved in after the farmers."

    How much would you like to bet? I could use some extra cash. Field burning has major effects on the entire City of Eugene, founded in 1862, home of the University of Oregon, chartered by the legislature in 1872. Farmers started growing grass seed in the valley sometime around the 1930's.

    By your logic, anyone who creates any kind of pollution, no matter how harmful, somehow gains priority over everyone else in perpetuity if they managed to get away with it for a while. That's absurd. We know far more about the effects of pollution on human health than we once did. The population and the economics have both changed considerably since the 1930's. We should just ignore all that? Are you also in favor of the City of Portland dumping all its raw sewage into the Willamette? After all, that practice started in the 1800's so it predates the time anyone alive today came or was born here.

  • jrw (unverified)

    To Ken--I am a fifth generation Oregonian, born and raised in the Eugene-Springfield area.

    I am more than willing to guess that many (not all) of those now burning in that area came to Oregon after my ancestors--who were farmers, not politicians, BTW. How many generations has your family been here, Ken? The argument doesn't work.

    That argument is spurious, as doretta points out, and doesn't work worth a hoot in this case. Shooting ranges and other such usages do not impact an entire airshed over many miles, as field burning does.

in the news 2006

connect with blueoregon