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Panel of state legislators discuss field burning in Arkansas.

Whitney Haigwood, Staff Writer

February 22, 2024

2 Min Read
Cars stopped on an interstate because of black smoke seen on the horizon.
An out-of-control crop fire brought the north and south bound lanes of US Highway 67 to a halt on Oct. 22, 2022, in Jackson County, Ark. One year later, a 16-vehicle accident took place near this same section of interstate amidst the smoke of yet another out-of-control crop fire.Whitney Haigwood

Delta farmers rely on burning crop residue as a farm management tool to prepare fields for the next growing season. Prescribed burning is a cost-effective way to remove straw and stubble left after harvest, thereby reducing the need for tillage and extra trips across the field. 

Field burning also helps control pests, crop disease, and weed pressure. For a farmer this improves efficiency and saves on input costs. However, the practice of prescribed fire is often misinterpreted by the general public. That unfortunate misunderstanding combined with irresponsible field burning has potential to create regulatory disaster. 

Recently, the topic of smoke management was discussed during the State Legislative Panel of the Arkansas Rice annual meeting on Feb. 1, 2024, at the Red Wolf Convention Center in Jonesboro, Ark.  

State legislators participating in the panel discussion included Sen. Ronald Caldwell, Wynne; Sen. Blake Johnson, Corning; and Sen. Dave Wallace, Leachville. 

During the question-and-answer session, Arkansas Rice Executive Director Kelly Robbins asked, “What do we need to do as an industry in terms of smoke management to continue to protect our members, landowners, and producers?” 

Johnson responded, “I want to start with that because I am a farmer,” he said. “Smoke management is an individual responsibility. I don’t want to be told when I can or cannot start a fire, but if we don’t take responsibility as producers, someone is going to tell us what to do.” 

Related:FireSMART app for prescribed burns in Arkansas

Wallace chimed in, “I cannot emphasize enough, there is a group coming after us on this issue,” referring to concerned citizens seeking crop burning regulations. This is related to a 16-vehicle accident that took place in Jackson County last fall, killing two people and injuring six others amidst the smoke of a nearby field fire. 

This issue is anticipated to be pressed during the 2025 spring legislative session, and Caldwell stressed the importance of following best practices and standards when burning. 

One method is through the FireSMART app launched, in part, by the Arkansas Department of Agriculture to plan and voluntarily report prescribed fires. 

The app provides real-time information like wind direction, wind speed, and humidity to help farmers make informed decisions about when and where to burn. Details about the planned fire are entered in the app and a smoke screen is generated on an interactive map to pinpoint any smoke-sensitive areas nearby. 

Arkansas farmers are encouraged to download the FireSMART app. It must be downloaded from the website at ArkFireSmart.com. From there, the mobile friendly app is easily added to the home screen of your devices. 

Related:Burning stalks: What does it really cost?

“We have to do a much better job of planning our burning,” Wallace said. “And we have to do a better job of educating our neighbors who are not farmers as to why crop burning is so important to us.” 

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