RATHDRUM, Idaho – North Idaho bluegrass growers will be able to burn their crop stubble this year, the Idaho Department of Agriculture has decided.
Pat Takasugi, the department’s director, announced on Friday that growers had no economically viable alternative to field burning. State law requires the director to make such a ruling before the burning season may begin.
“Based upon the record provided to me for review, I find that no economically viable alternatives to field burning currently exist for Idaho producers,” Takasugi said in a prepared statement.
Takasugi based much of his decision on research by the University of Idaho on field burning alternatives. The researchers told Takasugi that outside of burning, there was no way to manage the crop residue that would prove to be economically sustainable.
Some bluegrass farmers have maintained they must burn their fields to shock the soil into producing a strong crop the following season, and for the past several years Takasugi has agreed with them. But the practice has strong opposition from health advocates, who claim the smoke from burning endangers lives in North Idaho and Eastern Washington.
“It’s the usual sham certification. Field burning endangers the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” said Patti Gora, executive director for Safe Air For Everyone. “We’re very concerned with burning this year, particularly on the Rathdrum Prairie. There’s so much more building on that land.”
As many as 40 farmers in Kootenai and Benewah counties are expected to burn fields this year, starting at the end of July and August, Linda Clovis, spokeswoman for the Farmers of North Idaho, said.