sends field burning scale down to governor's desk
Oregon grass seed farmers were dealt a blow Monday, June 29,
when the Oregon House approved a near ban on field burning in
the Willamette Valley.
Under the bill, grass seed farmers in most of the valley can
burn no more than 20,000 acres this year. After that, the
practice is all but banned.
An exception to Senate Bill 528 added in recent weeks gives
farmers the option to burn up to 15,000 acres of identified
species - most fine fescues and creeping bentgrass - and on
certain steep terrain fields.
The bill, which previously passed the Senate, is expected to
be signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Rural Republican lawmakers and some Democrats roundly opposed
the bill in a heated floor debate. But in the end, Democratic
leadership, armed with a 36-24 advantage, held sway in a 31-29
"It's the most hypocritical, awful display of raw power I've
seen this session," said Rep. Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton. "How
dare they do this to farmers?"
Several lawmakers characterized the restrictions as crippling
to an industry already reeling from the economic recession.
The restrictions are expected to drive up production costs and
could run some farmers out of business, several said.
"Senate Bill 528 will shut down a half a billion dollar
industry," Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, said in the floor
"Imposing increased costs and potentially eliminating markets
could not come at a worse time," said Rep. Cliff Bentz,
"In my opinion, in this session, we've moved from a policy of
'do no harm' to 'do no harm except to the farm,'" Gilliam
Farmers in the south valley, where annual ryegrass seed is
widely produced, are expected to be the hardest hit by the new
"We're definitely going to see economic impacts to south
valley farmers who are growing annual (ryegrass) on marginal
lands," said Katie Fast, lead lobbyist for the Oregon Farm
Studies have shown farmer revenues are off 12 cents a pound
under a field burning ban, she said.
"I think (the House's action) was extremely short sighted,"
said Roger Beyer, executive secretary of the Oregon Seed
Council. "Farmers in the south valley are faced with
alternatives that are all bad, especially in this economy."
Bill backers, meanwhile, called the vote historic.
"Oregonians have long suffered every summer due to field
burning smoke," said Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, a sponsor of
the bill. "The health risks posed by field burning are well
known and this bill is a significant step towards reducing
Holvey and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, earlier said they
were prepared to seek a ban in a referendum to the voters if
SB528 failed. That ban, Holvey said, would have been more
restrictive than the current bill.
Beyer, however, said the industry "did not fear an