Idaho field burning

A farm field in Idaho is burned to eradicate and control pests and diseases in this undated Idaho Department of Environmental Quality file photo.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality plans to propose that the state Legislature, which starts its annual session in January, change the system by which farmers pay to burn crop residue.

Farmers now estimate how much land they plan to burn and then pay the $2-per-acre fee at least a week beforehand. Under the proposed administrative rule change, they would pay at the end of the burn season for the amount burned, which could “really streamline the process from the grower’s standpoint,” said Mark Boyle, Idaho DEQ smoke management program coordinator based in Coeur d’Alene. “It looks like growers would have potential cost savings.”

An advisory committee including agricultural and environmental interests developed the proposed change, which would take effect before the 2019 crop-residue burning season.

“The current system is inefficient,” Idaho Grain Producers Association Executive Director Stacey Satterlee said. “At the beginning of the year, if you want to burn crop residue, you have to estimate and then pay up front. If there is a bad wildfire year, you can’t burn and you already paid.”

A grower’s prepaid burning day could be canceled due to weather, wildfire or other factors. Boyle said the department accepts refund requests, which take time for DEQ to process and do not repay an initially charged 3 percent fee for electronic transactions.

According to DEQ, the program aims to enable growers to burn crop residue under certain conditions so public-health risks from smoke are reduced. Growers must register a month before they plan to start burning.

Efforts to change the system so farmers can pay after burn season, the department said, coincide with a software change and do not involve a fee increase.

field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

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