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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Half the story

The O has a curious story running today, about the tight regulation, indeed the near-elimination, of field burning as a maintenance measure by Willamette Valley grass farmers. The growers are moaning that the latest restrictions, imposed by state law, are hurting their business at a time when they are already suffering due to economic conditions.

That may be true, but what about the other side of the issue? Reporter Eric Mortenson didn't bother to interview the legislators who passed the restrictions, or the governor who signed them into law. Nor did he give a call to the Lung Association or any of the many medical professionals who called for a complete ban of the practice. The result is a pretty lazy article.

Field burning provided an economic benefit to a relative handful of grass seed operators in the valley -- probably something like 100 families. Yet it poisoned the air for hundreds of thousands of people. Right about this time of year is when it would start -- on the eve of any predicted rainfall, and sometimes in between -- and it would go all fall. It was supposed to be limited to days when the winds were blowing away from population centers, but that wasn't always how it worked out. And it was run by the agriculture department, not the environmental quality department, and so the supposed mistakes were always suspect.

Field burning was an embarrassment for a supposedly green state. It should have been stopped long before it was. Environmental restrictions have their economic costs. All regulations do. It's called "civilization." The farmers have a right to gripe, but there are compelling reasons for the changes.

Comments (13)

And the lumber folks complained about the elimination of all those conical sawdust burners too. Now all sorts of products are made from sawdust.

This is the website for the Environmental Working Group http://farm.ewg.org/.
They have a list by state and county of all the recipients of agricultural subsidies. It might be interesting to know if any of the grass seed growers are on the list.

I have yet to meet a starving grass seed grower.

Not to mention the number of people killed in accidents on I-5 due to the lack of visibility on burning days.

Maybe the next proposal should be that farmers not be plowing their fields since they kick up so much dust?
All that nasty particulate matter in the air and all those asthma and allergy attacks that occur.

The other point the story missed (or barely mentioned) is that many of the grass seed farmers have switched to wheat, taking advantage of current high wheat prices. Leading growers are working to develop wheat varieties even better suited to the Valley.

I see a real win-win here. Having grown up in the Tualatin Valley I know the big plus of getting rid of growers as civilization proceeds. I saw it in Kootenai County, too.

You get rid of all that nasty but brief seasonal burning and then you get those tractor-types the hell out of there.

Now, you can proceed with proper development (Intel campuses, multi-plexes, subdivisions, 4 lane roads over gravel).

You also preform two really effective social actions in getting these rich grass creatures gone:

- you ensure that those growers, (undoubtedly tight-rightys) and their almost literally satanic monies go away.

Now, you've got cheaper land for the proles driven from the city by the better classes who control the municipalities.

No wait, they'll just grow wheat which they should have been doing all along. Evidently.

"Like many farmers, he now uses chemicals instead of fire to clean fields for the next year."

So whatever chemicals that they use are the equivalent of burning? Yikes, gotta wonder how that affects the ground water and run off.

They should just pave over the fields..
That would be civilization too..

Another example of how things were SO MUCH better back in the 70's and 80's - we had all those nice grass seed fires to cause traffic havoc and ruin our air! Things are SO much worse now, aren't they!

Professor Jack -- that was pretty good reading between the lines to pick up the part of the story that wasn't published. How about this:

Farmers must register fields in advance, pay a burn fee of $20 an acre and wait for permission to burn fields, said John Byers, who's managed the state's smoke management program for nine years.

If there isn't much smoke any more, how many people does the state pay to manage it?


This is an interesting topic. Historically, the US had been a large net exporter of grass seed, particularly including exports to East Asia. Facilitating economic activity in sectors where the US is a net exporter is a key strategy to restoring economic growth and increasing employment -- a heck of a lot better than the almost laughable strategies of payroll tax cuts and passing funds along to state and local governments. There really is another side to this story.

My guess is that modern weather forecasting and monitoring is such that the more stringent regulations against burning, adopted some time back, need not need be as tight going forward. If we want a real economy back there's no question that a lot green thinking has to change or moderate -- that's just the way it is.

From a quick scan of the comments, it's clear most of you had no real experience of life under field burning. As a former resident of the Eugene area, most specifically of the part where the smoke was designed to go under the ill-fated "smoke management plan," I'm more than happy to see the burning go away. I lived through enough "Black Whatever" days that I've lost track of them. It's nice now to visit Eugene without the damn choking fire smoke dragging on, and on, and on....

And anybody who thinks the likes of Brownsville and Crawfordsville are gonna be new suburban havens...bwahaha. Only in their wildest SoCal developer dreams...even given Springfield's annexation ambitions.

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