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To Burn or Not to Burn?

OPB | April 14, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 8:51 p.m.

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Each summer, grass seed farmers in Oregon clear their fields after harvest to make way for new growth. Some simply till their land, while others get rid of grass stubble, weeds and insects using a practice that goes back more than 50 years: field burning. This method has long been controversial in Oregon, where many residents claim the smoke leads to long-term health problems.

Track star Steve Prefontaine took a stand against field burning in 1975. (Many Oregonians will also remember the 1988 fatal traffic accident caused by smoke from a nearby field.) The issue is heating up again in the 2009 legislative session, where two bills have been introduced that would get rid of field burning altogether.

House Bill 2183, backed by Governor Ted Kulongoski, would phase out field burning over a three year period and Senate Bill 528 would immediately ban the practice. Conservation advocates are in favor of the regulations, but grass seed farmers say they’re too extreme.

Do farmers burn fields near your property? How does it affect you? Do you burn your fields? What would a ban mean for your farming practices? What about your livelihood?

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