A Spokane County commissioner’s proposal to pay Rathdrum Prairie grass growers not to burn their fields was rapidly doused with skepticism Monday in North Idaho.
“I’m not going to let Washington influence what goes on in North Idaho,” said Wayne Meyer, a Rathdrum bluegrass farmer and Idaho legislator. Most other growers likely won’t either, he said.
Anti-burning advocates were similarly unreceptive. “I personally don’t think they should be paid to stop burning,” said Fields Cobb of the Clean Air Coalition in Sandpoint. “I don’t think they have the right to do it in the first place.”
Monday Spokane County Commissioner John Roskelley told grass growers and clean air advocates about a proposed compromise to reduce field burning in north Spokane County and North Idaho.
The growers would be subsidized to compensate for the higher cost of growing seed without burning. Growers in southern Spokane County could continue to burn.
Common on the Rathdrum Prairie since the 1940s, field burning after harvest clears stubble and increases production of seed. It helps control insects, weeds and rodents.
It also sends eye-stinging, lung-irritating smoke across the region for about six weeks late each summer. Much of it drifts to the Sandpoint area.
Farmers like Meyer maintain that a vocal minority opposes grass burning. So, “I don’t think people are going to be willing to pay farmers not to burn,” he said.
Glenn Jacklin, operations manager for Jacklin Seed Co., wasn’t as adamant. “I think it sounds way out there, but we’ll leave our minds open,” he said.
Jacklin is happy to see some discussion, however. “They’ve been pounding their fists on the table and saying we need to quit burning,” he said. “Now we finally have a few people on the board coming up with ideas and proposals.”
It will cost as much as $250 an acre to cover the costs of farmers who agree not to burn, Jacklin said.
That leaves several questions, such as who will compensate growers, who will determine the loss to farmers, and who will account for the acres in question, he said.
The Clean Air Coalition’s position is indicative of how difficult it may be to cover the subsidies.
“I know of no other industry in the entire U.S. that can trespass on other people’s lives and health and get away with it,” Cobb said. “To pay them to stop burning doesn’t seem rational.” , DataTimes MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition