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Smoke Management Program coordinator Kristi Fisher said last season was an ideal one.Smoke management program coordinator Kristi Fisher said last year was “A dream season with only three complaints called into me.”

That was compared to the 2012 season, during which she received 23 complaints about smoke from the public, even though the same amount of acres were burned both years, she pointed out.

The reason, Fisher said, was because the area had a lot of smoke from wildfires in 2012 and people were upset that field burning was adding to the mix. “It’s confusing to the community, but when the winds are good and there’s ventilation, we burn,” Fisher said during her report at the Farm Fair.

Advantages in 2013 were that farmers were able to burn most of the wheat and grass fields were burned in the first four weeks, and there were few wildfires.

The nine-week burn season lasts from August through September, and 12 days were lost to rain last year. Week five (Aug. 25) was the severe rain and hail storm that devastated Agency Plains crops, and week nine was cold and rainy, so not burning was done.

Luckily, most fields had been burned earlier. A total of 7,306 wheat acres were burned, and 3,597 grass acres, Fisher said, noting, “The 2013 season successfully burned all registered fields, with very few complaints.”

Program changes

Fisher informed growers that the smoke management board had made changes to the open field burning season, to have it coincide with the fire department’s open burning season.

Before, farmers could burn from January through September, and all burning stopped in October, November and December. Although the official field burning season is in August and September, Fisher explained that around five fields on average have been granted permission to burn in the spring, due to certain planting schedules.

For the 2014 season, Fisher said open field burning would be from January to May (for around five fields), along with the regular August-September burn season. No burning would be allowed in June, July, October, November and December.

Fisher said the change was proposed to improve relations with the community. “It’s the community’s perception. They wonder why they can’t burn, but the farmers can,” Fisher said of the difference between the smoke management program’s open burning season, and the fire department’s open burning season.

Growers attending the Central Oregon Farm Fair did not take that news well, and several said they had fields that needed to be burned and planted before August. Others, along tinder-dry canyon rims, burn in the spring as a safety issue, so they won’t spark a wildfire.

Fisher told them she would related their concerns to board members, who might have to revisit the issue.

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