Rice industry leaders have announced a plan to form a task force to look into whether voluntary smoke management guidelines can help reduce tension between farmers who use field burns to clear residue after the harvest, and residents who say the smoke aggravates asthma symptoms.
The task force will use a model based on smoke management guidelines for forestry landowners.
“They’ll use it as a template but draft smoke management guidelines that are voluntary but more applicable for agriculture, specifically with crops,” said Lauren Waldrip Ward, executive director of the Arkansas Rice Federation.
Such guidelines may include instructions on how to judge wind speed and directions and when to wait a few hours — or even another day — before clearing a rice field with a flash burn.
“I don’t think you’ll find one farmer anywhere that’s doing something on purpose to be a nuisance to their neighbors,” said state agriculture department secretary Wes Ward.
He expects there to be a lot of cooperation among farmers.
Even the smoke’s critics welcomed the news of the task force.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with this plan,” said Dr. Warren Skaug, a pediatrician in Jonesboro who’s been outspoken on the subject of the harm field smoke can do to his young patients’ developing lungs.
Skaug said a full ban would be the healthiest and cleanest solution, but since it may not be realistic, he is eager to see if the task force’s work will help to get smoke reduced or pointed away from people at risk.
“As a standalone item, this is not insignificant. The voluntary smoke management guidelines, as they would apply to row crop farmers, have some potential to do some good, and it’s a delight to me that the farming industry has come up with this,” said Skaug.
Skaug said the air quality reading he takes every afternoon has improved considerably since field burning season ended.
“During the rest of the year, our air in Northeast Arkansas is quite good,” he said.
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