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Arkansas : Rice industry meets to discuss field residue burning practices

Arkansas rice farmers and stakeholders met at the Brinkley Convention Center on Tuesday morning for board meetings of the Arkansas Rice Council, Arkansas Rice Farmers and Arkansas Rice Federation. The Arkansas Rice Farmers board voted to form a task force and develop voluntary smoke management guidelines.
The task force will work with agriculture partners in forestry and conservation to consider a model already in place by the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Council’s voluntary Smoke Management Guidelines for forest landowners, and private, state, and federal forestry agencies and companies.
Although agricultural burning is virtually finished for this year, the group unanimously approved a motion to form the committee and explore ways to address the concern. Specifically, the task force will consider farmer burn plans and the reporting of prescribed burns to the Arkansas Forestry Commission Dispatch Center as part of voluntary smoke management guidelines – a process already in place for forest landowners.
Burning crop residue is a recommended crop management practice.  A lot of organic refuse is left after the harvest, and it needs to be removed to prepare fields for the next growing season. The refuse can also provide shelter for nuisance weeds and insects that can be detrimental to future crops. Fires can also eliminate potential diseases. Fire isn’t always necessary, but it’s especially helpful in rice to manage problematic residue. Waiting on the residue to breakdown during winter can be a gamble. Winter conditions can slow breakdown and lead to increased tillage and delayed planting, resulting in increased production costs and lower yields in some cases. In fields that cannot rotate to crops other than rice, excessive remaining residue in the field can be detrimental to future rice crops.
“This is something the ag industry as a whole has acknowledged and is working to address collectively,” said Jeff Rutledge, Chairman of the Arkansas Rice Federation. “Field burning is part of a complete crop management strategy and our growers want to ensure the continued quality of the air their families and neighbors breathe.”
Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward and Agriculture Department Communications Director Adriane Barnes addressed attendees regarding the process for existing voluntary smoke management guidelines from the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Council. Don McBride, Assistant State Forester and Fred Burnett, Fire Management Officer both of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, also entertained questions and comments during Tuesday’s meeting.
“Our industry has repeatedly shown a willingness to adopt voluntary guidelines or best management practices as opposed to being subject to additional government regulations.  Here our row crop industry is looking to the lessons that our forest landowners have learned in the past and we are all working together to find common sense solutions,” said Wes Ward, Arkansas Agriculture Secretary. “This is a perfect example of how we can accomplish more together than apart.”
From a release
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Terry Simmons