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Field burning necessary, says ag chief

February 13, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

Local farmers have to burn fields and they don't have much of a choice, according to county officials.

But air pollution is a problem that isn't going to go away in Imperial County and the county Board of Supervisors wanted to hear how the two problems would be resolved.

"We have reduced agricultural burning 60 percent, from 100,000 acres to 40,000 acres (a year)," county Agricultural Commissioner Stephen Birdsall said.

Agricultural burning is allowed in the California Health and Safety Code, Birdsall said. Birdsall also is the county Air Pollution Control District officer.

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The health code requires agricultural burning be reasonably regulated. In this county it is highly regulated, he said.

Agricultural burning represents about 2 percent of the county's total air pollution emissions, Birdsall said.

The biggest emission culprits in the county are nitrous oxide from stationary sources such as power plants and PM-10, which is small air particle matter that can get into the lungs, APCD senior manager Brad Poiriez said.

When farmers burn fields, the dark smoke is large particle matter, not the smaller PM-10, Birdsall said. Field burning also releases some carbon monoxide and organic materials into the air.

"The farmers in the Valley are just as concerned about this as we are," he said.

Field burning is necessary to farming because it reduces pests, it enhances Bermuda grass, and with wheat it puts nitrogen back into the soil, Birdsall said.

Rod Pittman disagreed.

Pittman is a semi-retired pest control adviser who lives in El Centro.

"I do not support field burning," Pittman said.

He said using compost material is a viable alternative to field burning but he understands right now it costs a lot not to burn.

Only a few people are composting in the Valley, he said. There is no smell. Composting hay and cellulose has no odor.

Composting material is a viable growing product, he said.

"The point is it has to be profitable. We have to make it profitable to not burn," Pittman said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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