America farmers still burning crops. What will it take to get "old timers" on board with newer practices that will save $ and preserve the earth?, 10°

Julie E. 50°

This morning I received an email from Arkansas farmer Norwood Creech, whom YERT corresponded with while seeking out rural farmers in the South. She wrote with great concern about "old time" farmers burning off crop stubble (rather than turning it under as compost).

There no evidence that charring fields improves soil fertility - in fact, most research shows that soil degrades much faster with charring - not to mention that burning entire fields very obviously pollutes the air and adds to the CO2 load in the atmosphere.

Below is Norwood's letter to me that I promised I would post for everyone to think about... along with her plea for ideas about how to sway people away who are clinging to this wasteful, damaging, antiquated practice. Please feel free to pass it on:

"The farmers are burning off their wheat, again. This process is not 'more better' than rolling the stubble into the ground. Burning is the ways of the old timers. However, it also seems to be the ways of the misguided and uneducated.

http://bp3.blogger.com/_ognFOelLQ4U/SFvr_PcSCAI...
http://bp3.blogger.com/_ognFOelLQ4U/SFvr_PcSCAI...

The first 2 photos are from our roof top here in Lepanto, AR. We are seeing 8 of these [burns] plus some, every evening now for the past 5 days. And that is just in the evening... about when the wind dies down and the smoke started from late fires settles. I am talking acres and acres of these wheat fires, burning rapidly and some even make their own clouds!

http://bp2.blogger.com/_ognFOelLQ4U/SFvr-0-6dlI...
http://bp2.blogger.com/_ognFOelLQ4U/SFvr-0-6dlI...

As for the picture of the burn with the flag.. The farm to the right of this one burned their wheat off last year and burned up a pick up truck in the process. Fortunately this year, it looks as though they have learned from their mistake. However, this farm to its left was intentionally burned. Fire department even had to called. It almost reached a trailer home. Farmers should not play with matches! I live in the country but it sells like a dirty city. Black ash clings to the edges of the house. None of this can be good for anyone. Not to mention global warming.

In the fall, after the rice crop gets cut, some burn that too. Note that rice puts a silica in the air that can shred your lungs.... None of this burning makes sense to me, how can I get this addressed and perhaps stopped?

Norwood

---

Here are some links for further reading:

Costs of Stubble Burning
http://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/soilwater/soil...

Up in Smoke - Lost Opportunities when Stubble is Burned
http://www.notill.org/news_releases/no_more_bur...

P.S. Ben is telling me that this is my hundredth blog for YERT. (He likes numbers.)

4 replies

Chris B. 44°

It's all about the money. While it's cheaper to "do the dirty", people will.

Call me a cynic, but I don't think you can stand a chance of really getting people to do otherwise.

Written in June 2008

Julie E. 50°

Really? Even if it will be "cheaper" in the long run? I hope that's not true!

Written in June 2008

Charles M. 110°

Stubble burning isn't always bad. It depends very much on what crops are being burnt, moisture levels etc.

If the burn off results in some charcoal-like residues then it can be very beneficial for the soil as it increases the water holding and carbon content of the soil.

Burying the wrong types of stubble can generate a lot of methane which is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2 and burning (and producing CO2 instead) is actually far better.

It is true that returning organic matter to the ground makes compost, but that assumes a good fit between the material being turned in, moisture and soil types. The residues of a modern monoculture crop are hardly the makings of good compost.

Written in November 2008

In Poznan the scientists have come up with an old solution to the problem of stubble burning, that could earn them money. It was reported by Reuters, please see http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUS... POZNAN, Poland (Reuters) - An ancient technique of plowing charred plants into the ground to revive soil may also trap greenhouse gases for thousands of years and forestall global warming. Under a conservative scenario the technique could store 0.2 billion tons of carbon annually, he said. That would still require heating without oxygen -- called pyrolysis -- some 27 percent of global crop waste and plowing this into the soil.

Written in December 2008

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