Field burning is an essential practice for producers of certain grass seed kinds and other seed and cereal grain crops on steep terrain. Since 1948, field burning has been an important crop management tool for farmers in Oregon. In western Oregon, field burning is limited to 15,000 acres in the north Willamette Valley and is managed by the ODA with collaboration from the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon Seed Council.
Field burning in the Willamette Valley
Field burning has been an important tool used to control weeds and diseases in grass seed production in Oregon since the 1940’s. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, over 250,000 acres were burned annually. In 1991, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 3343 that called for a phasedown in acreage to be open field burned annually in the Willamette Valley. The phasedown concluded in 1998 with 40,000 acres of regular limitation and 25,000 acres of identified species and steep terrain (65,000 acres total) allowed to be open field burned. Also, during that time ODA assumed the enforcement role, taking over from DEQ.
Although field burning has considerable positive impacts on fine fescue seed production, concern over air pollution and public safety issues resulted in legislative actions that restricted the total area of seed crops burned. In 2009, legislation ended burning in western Oregon for grass seed crops, except for fine fescue crops and other seed and cereal grain crops on steep terrain (Enrolled Senate Bill 528). Field burning is limited to up to 15,000 acres in the north Willamette Valley.
Why field burning?
Sometimes called thermal sanitation, field burning of crop residues after harvest can have positive effects on seed crops such as fine fescues and bentgrass. The majority of US production of these seed kinds is in Oregon, covering approximately 20,000 acres in the Willamette Valley.
Benefits of field burning include:
- Reduction of pests, weeds, and diseases
- Increase in seed yields
- Increase in stand life (from 2-3 years to 5-7 years for fine fescues)
- Minimizes the need for tillage and controls erosion
Field burning in other parts of Oregon
The burning of grass and cereal grain residue outside of the Willamette Valley is regulated by county ordinance. Currently, Jefferson, Union, and Umatilla counties operate smoke management programs for field burning.