“Is it worth it? Definitely not.”
– ANDY NADLER, MAFRI
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers is refusing to rule out a total ban on stubble burning, after an unusually late fall forced the province to impose emergency limits on the practice.
Struthers says he is waiting for a recommendation from an advisory committee before making a decision.
“All the options are open and it will depend on the advice I get from a group of people who every year sit down and review our policy,” he told reporters after speaking to the Keystone Agricultural Producers annual meeting last week.
“I’m not ruling anything out. What I’m saying is, when we get that advice, and farmers are part of that process, we’ll take a good hard look and make our decisions from that.”
The possibility of an outright ban on burning crop residue because of pressure from the city of Winnipeg worries KAP, said president Ian Wishart.
“We’re concerned about it,” he said. “We have seen in the past that urbanites have the power legislatively to accomplish what they want even though we might not be left with any realistic options.”
The committee meets annually to advise the province on burning regulations and how to implement them. KAP, the Manitoba Lung Association and government departments belong to it.
The group may not recommend an outright burning ban. But it could suggest more restrictions and greater enforcement.
Stubble burning in Manitoba is controlled by government regulation between Aug. 1 and Nov. 15. Farmers in municipalities immediately surrounding Winnipeg require permits to burn during that time. Producers elsewhere in the province need daily authorization.
An unusually late harvest this fall pushed burning past the regulated limit.
Uncontrolled burning occurred for several days after Nov. 15 before the province rushed to reimpose controls.
Fall stubble burning is a perennial issue, especially for Winnipeggers. Almost every year, hospital emergency wards see people experiencing respiratory problems from smoke drifting into the city.
Late burning was a particular problem this past year as farmers struggled to deal with heavy, damp straw resulting from a cool, wet summer.
Wishart said KAP accepts some limits on burning and does not condone farmers who violate them.
“We can’t stand up and support people who are breaking the rules. The rules are in place to make sure that this option is there for everyone and if somebody abuses it, they will spoil it for everyone.”
KAP delegates passed a resolution calling on the province to revise the regulations and base burning on seasonal conditions rather than calendar dates.
Two related resolutions called for KAP to take out newspaper advertisements before harvest encouraging farmers to comply with burning rules and that Manitoba Conservation enforce the regulations more rigorously.
But delegates defeated those resolutions even though Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay spoke strongly in favour of them.
“There are rules out there that need to be obeyed. If you don’t give out tickets this year, next year it’ll be twice as bad,” he said.
Later, Fossay said delegates may have voted down the two resolutions because they didn’t think KAP should do the province’s work for it.
Crop residue burning can carry a hidden health and social cost that’s not often recognized, said Andy Nadler, a MAFRI agricultural meteorologist.
During a presentation to the KAP meeting, Nadler said emergency ward visits peaked on October 28, when a huge cloud of smoke from “irresponsible burning,” aided by rain and strong southwest winds, drifted into the city.
He calculated that every 100 visits cost the health-care system $10,000, based on $100 a visit. If the average wait time is 6.5 hours, one fire wastes 650 people hours.
“Is it worth it? Definitely not,” said Nadler.
Surprisingly, though, the Red River Valley wasn’t the biggest area for stubble burning in 2009, Nadler said. He showed aerial maps to reveal that burning occurred in every region of agro-Manitoba, from the southeast to the northwest. [email protected]