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California varietal wine grape growing has become all about clones

California varietal wine grape growing has become all about clones.

And for good reason. However, according to Mathew Fidelibus, assistant Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist at the University of California Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier, growers may not be digging deep enough to discover differences.

Fidelibus’ research into various clones of traditional cultivated wine grape varieties has yielded some surprising nuances in terms of yield, disease tolerance, fruit composition, and other production and quality characteristics.

“Most of California’s wine industry is based on a single species of grape – Vitis vinifera,” he says. “Over the years, old cultivars have accumulated many clones due to mistaken identity or mutation or both.”

Variation is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact variation within cultivars can help a grower select a clone to better fit a specific growing situation.

“Clone selection is almost untapped in California,” Fidelibus surprisingly says. “There are huge differences that occur even within clones that can work to a grower’s advantage.”

Technically, a clone is defined as a population of vines that are propagated asexually from a single mother vine.

“Nurseries offer many different clones of a given cultivar,” Fidelibus says. “They may differ dramatically with respect to yield, yield components, fruit composition, and susceptibility to pests and diseases. Additionally, the performance of a given clone can depend on the climatic region where it is grown.”

Clone differentiation

Fidelibus conducted several trials looking at clone differentiation in the San Joaquin Valley. Cultivars included Chardonnay, Merlot and Zinfandel/Primitivo.

In the Chardonnay clone trial Fidelibus evaluated six clones including Clone 4 which is the industry standard. “Chardonnay is the most widely cultivated wine grape in California,” he says. “There are more than 70 different registered Chardonnay clones in California. Clone 4 is characterized by high yields and good fruit composition. It has large heavy fruit clusters, but it has a drawback. It is very susceptible to sour rot.”

“Clone 4 had good yields and good fruit composition as expected, but it was more susceptible to sour rot at 16 percent than any of the other clones in the trial,” he says. “Clone 15 had 10 percent lower yields than Clone 4, but it only had 4 percent incidence of sour rot. That’s a big difference if you’re growing Chardonnay in an area where sour rot is a problem.”

In the second cultivar trial, Fidelibus looked at six Merlot clones. “Merlot is among the most important red wine grapes in California,” he says. “Forty-five percent of the state’s Merlot yield is grown in the Central Valley. Clone 3 is the standard with consistent set, yield and good fruit composition. However, its performance as compared to other clones had not been tested.”

The results of the trial showed that growers might not be optimizing their yields or quality if they go with the industry standard instead of considering their options. “Clone 10 performed best with consistently higher yields of fruit with low pH and high tritratable acids,” Fidelibus says. “Clone 11 was undesirable. It had the largest berries, was the most susceptible to rot, and had high pH. Clone 3 performed similar to Clones 1 and 9 but was not superior to Clone 10.”

Zinfandel trial

In the Zinfandel trial, Fidelibus again looked at six different clones including three Primitivo clones. Primitivo is clone of Zinfandel origin and is so closely related Primitivo berries can legally be marketed as Zinfandel.

Zinfandel is characterized, in general, by big berries, large clusters, high fruitfulness and high yields. It is also very susceptible to “sour rot” in warm climates. It often ripens unevenly, and yields typically decline as the season progresses. Additionally, color can be poor, especially in warm climates.

“There were few differences between the Zinfandel clones tested,” Fidelibus says. “The Primitivo selections generally were better. They were earlier maturing. They had similar or higher yield, and similar or less incidence of sour rot.”

USA Rice chairman announces leadership changes

USA Rice Federation Chairman Al Montna today announced the selection of Betsy Ward as the organization’s new president and CEO effective May 1.

“We look forward to the excellent management skills Betsy will bring back to the Federation after her two-year absence,” Montna said. “The USA Rice Board of Directors also recognizes the superior leadership and work of Bob Cummings in his handling of genetically engineered rice issues, and has elevated his position to that of senior vice president,” Montna said.

Ward served for two years as the USA Rice vice president for domestic and international promotion before becoming executive director of the Hardwood Federation in Washington in May 2005.

“I am very excited about returning to the rice industry and look forward to working closely with all the members of the USA Rice Federation on the many challenges and opportunities we face,” said Ward, who from 1995 to 2003 ran the wood international program of the American Forest & Paper Association. Prior to that, beginning in 1991, she was executive director of the American Hardwood Export Council.

Ward earned her a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree from the School of International Affairs at Columbia University.

"I Look forward to working with Betsy and USA Rice members and staff on key issues like the farm bill, maintaining the marketability of U.S. rice, and building consensus within the industry," Cummings said.

“USA Rice members will now have an even stronger senior management team in place to handle the Federation’s affairs in Washington and around the globe,” Montna said. “Please join me in congratulating Betsy and Bob in their new roles.”

The Kincannon & Reed executive search firm in Vienna, VA, assisted USA Rice in its CEO search.

Specialty crop grants announced by Arizona Department of Agriculture

The Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) is accepting applications for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP). The SCBGP provides grants to specialty crop producers to promote the increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and nuts and to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in Arizona and other states.

The ADA anticipates that the grant monies will be available to successful applicants by late 2007 or early 2008. Grant awards are capped at $30,000 per grant. There is a total of approximately $260,000 available through this grant for specialty crop producers in Arizona.

The specialty crop industry annually accounts for more than $53 billion in cash receipts, close to 54 percent of the total cash receipts for crops nationally, yet specialty crop producers experienced lower than average income in 2003 due to higher energy and labor costs.

Arizona is the fifth largest producer in the nation of specialty crops.

For purposes of the program, specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and nursery crops including floriculture.

The 2007 SCBGP grant application deadline is May 16, 2007. To view the 2007 SCBGP grant manual, go to www.azda.gov/Main/scbgp07grantmanual.pdf.

For more information, call (602) 542-0137.

Researchers ‘sniff out’ emissions from feedyards

Setting up an air quality trailer in the midst of cattle pens at a feedlot will help measure gaseous emissions, said a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher.

Ken Casey, experiment station air quality engineer in Amarillo, wants to measure ammonia and hydrogen sulfide emissions from feedyards. His research team is setting up two climate-controlled instrument trailers in different locations at a feedyard. The trailers will be equipped with two continuous emissions analyzers – one for ammonia, the other for hydrogen sulfide.

Samples from above the trailer are drawn into a heated manifold inside the trailer, where the analyzers draw a sample, Casey said. This instrumentation allows measurement of both ammonia and hydrogen sulfide with a high degree of precision.

Ammonia is an environmental pollutant associated with several undesirable issues that are both regional and extensive in nature, he said.

Two federal acts – the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act – establish reportable levels of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and other emissions, Casey said.

In recent years, the courts have applied this legislation to swine and poultry operations, which resulted in a heightened awareness of environmental concerns within the agriculture community. To date, these acts have not been applied to cattle feedyards.

Ammonia emitted at feedyards comes from excess nitrogen fed to cattle and excreted primarily in the urine, Casey said. His research is aimed at determining when conditions are most favorable for emissions to occur. Then feedyard operators can better target mitigation strategies.

Total emission rate

Combining the measurement data with meteorological data collected by other researchers at the same yard and an air pollution model allows the total emission rate to be determined, he said.

“Because we’re going to monitor this over the course of a year, we’ll pick up daily and seasonal trends,” he said. “We’ll be able to correlate the rate with feedyard and climatic conditions, such as pen moisture content, days since rainfall, temperature and solar radiation.”

By better understanding the mechanisms that influence these emissions, researchers can establish strategies that may be useful in controlling them, Casey said.

“Clearly addressing the problem at its source through waste minimization potentially has the greatest effect,” he said. That means not feeding cattle more nutrients than they need.

Hydrogen sulfide is the other pollutant Casey will measure. It, too, can affect human health, particularly at high concentrations. Although hydrogen sulfide is being monitored, concentrations are usually very low around feedyards.

“There is concern that even relatively low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can have health effects as well,” Casey said. Legislation in several states, including Texas considers threshold exposure limits for hydrogen sulfide in the community around sources of emission.

Float wind tunnel

Within a feedyard, most of the hydrogen sulfide emissions are thought to come from the runoff retention structures or lagoons, he said. Yard emissions are already being measured. The next step is to float a wind tunnel on the surface of the lagoon to measure emissions.

Additional measurements of the ambient concentration downwind of the runoff retention structure also will be taken, allowing an emission rate to be obtained through modeling.

“So in effect, we get two goes at measuring the emission rate – directly and indirectly,” Casey said. “This will give us more confidence in the emission rates we have for these facilities.”

Oklahoma Water Research Institute at OSU announces first Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan hearing

As part of the update and expansion of the state-wide Water Plan, The Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB) and the Water Research Institute at Oklahoma State University (WRI) recently announced a series of hearings to give citizens the opportunity to provide input on the water needs for the future of Oklahoma.

“The WRI is excited about the process we are about to embark on and we look forward to hearing from Oklahoma citizens,” said Mike Langston, WRI Assistant Director. “The stakeholder input portion of the Water Plan update is a unique endeavor designed to allow citizens a voice in planning for the future of Oklahoma’s water resources.”

The Water Research Institute at Oklahoma State University will be conducting 42 local input meetings throughout the state. The purpose of the meetings is to record issues, concerns, questions and suggestions citizens have regarding Oklahoma’s water resources. The first meeting will be held April 12 in Beaver, Oklahoma, at the Beaver County Fairgrounds Pavilion at 1107 Douglas. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. and is open to all area citizens. Participation by all parties interested in the future of Oklahoma’s water is encouraged

“We all use Oklahoma water whether in our homes or to make a living,” said Jeri Fleming, WRI Stakeholder Communications Specialist. “I think most of us take water for granted, that it will always be at our fingertips, but that may not be the case if we don’t start thinking about the future now.”

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board is required by law to develop a Comprehensive Water Plan and update it every ten years; this is the third revision of the plan. The WRI is working with the OWRB to facilitate stakeholder input into the Water Plan.

Information sheets about water law as well as some regional and statewide issues will be available prior to the April 12 meeting. A record of discussion and all reports will be posted on the WRI website. Citizens will have the opportunity to make comments at the meeting or may fill out an input form and turn it at the meeting. The input form will also be available on the website or can be faxed or mailed.

“We want the process to be fair, inclusive and transparent. There is no set agenda for the water plan now, the agenda will be set by the people of Oklahoma,” Fleming said.

For more information and a schedule of meeting locations visit the WRI website at http://okwaterplan.info or e-mail the WRI at waterplan@okstate.edu.

Texas crop, weather report

With ground temperatures rising and recent rain, Texas Cooperative Extension professionals in the Rolling Plains described the outlook for this year's wheat as positive.

Extension regional offices reported the following conditions for the past week:

ROLLING PLAINS: The region received from 0.8 to 4 inches of rain. Wheat began to grow. Spring grass planting and sprigging has begun, and Sudan planting will begin soon. Grasses are beginning to break dormancy, and with the good moisture and warm weather, pastures should recover quickly. Livestock work is in full process. Livestock are in fair to good condition, and supplemental feeding is decreasing. Untreated lice infestations on cattle were major to severe in many herds. Peaches are just past full bloom. Pecan trees are budding out.

PANHANDLE: Some rain fell late in the week and through the weekend; most areas received 2 to 3 inches. Soil moisture in most areas is rated very short to adequate. Wheat is rated fair to good. Rain will benefit wheat in northern areas of the region. Range conditions are rated mostly fair. Warm temperatures and good moisture allowed some rangeland to begin turning green. Rains also helped decrease fire danger. Cattle are in fair to good condition. Supplemental feeding continues.

SOUTH PLAINS: Temperatures reached highs in the upper 70s F early in the week and cooled toward the end of the week. Heavy rains over the weekend ranged from 0.3 inch to more than 3 inches. Several low-energy funnel clouds were spotted in Lubbock and Yoakum counties. Soil moisture is adequate. Very little irrigation will be required prior to planting the spring crops. Preparation for spring planting is on hold until the fields dry out. Winter wheat is in fair to good condition and is growing rapidly due to warmer temperatures and rainfall. Pastures and ranges are in fair to good condition. Cattle are in good condition.

NORTH: Soil moisture ranged from short to adequate. Dry conditions persisted throughout the region; rainfall is needed. Effects of the drought on summer grasses are undetermined. Most of the recently planted row crops are not up to stand. Corn planting is about 30 percent emerged. Soybeans and sorghum planting began in some areas. Winter wheat condition looks very good for now; however some areas reported greenbugs, beetles and aphids. Peach trees are good with no insects reported. Most winter and spring pastures are in fair to poor condition. High winds and warmer temperatures dried out some surface moisture. Pastures improved after the last rain, but conditions remain generally dry. Some bermudagrass pastures began to green up. Winter feeding is ending. Ryegrass pastures for livestock are very good.

EAST: Winter pastures are in good condition. Producers began sprigging coastal bermudagrass and preparing for seed planting. Vegetable growers have been preparing land and planting corn, tomatoes, squash, beans and row cover watermelons. Daytime temperatures were in the upper 70s F; nighttime temperatures also were warmer. Soil moisture was reported as adequate. Lake and pond levels were good to excellent. Rain last week measured 0.2 to 0.6 inch. The warmer temperatures stimulated pasture growth and improved conditions for gardens. May beetles have been identified and other insect problems are expected. Cool-season forages have provided relief for limited hay supplies. Fertilizer prices have increased to $10 per ton and are expected to go up another $10 on this week. Spring calving is in progress. Cattle are in fair to good body condition. Producers continue to feed hay and supplement energy and protein. Cattle prices are up.

FAR WEST: Soil moisture ranges were very short to adequate. Range and pastures were in very poor to good conditions. Alfalfa is out of dormancy and the growth rate is good. Winter wheat is in very poor to good condition. Cotton ground preparation continued. Pecan trees are still dormant. Scattered precipitation from 0.3 to 2.5 inches was reported. Mild temperatures and strong winds were reported across the district. A burn ban is now in place in Ward County.

WEST CENTRAL: Warmer temperatures and very windy conditions were reported. Rain was reported in many areas, and soil moisture has improved. Burn bans have been lifted. Wheat pastures have improved. Some spring plowing and fertilizer applications began. Most hay fields are being prepared for planting. Producers are bailing small grain fields or grazing livestock. Range and pasture conditions continue to improve. Native and improved pastures have begun to green up. Livestock are in fair condition. Supplemental feeding continues. Stock tanks remain dry. Trees are leafing out, and some warm season grasses are beginning to emerge from dormancy. Fruit trees are in full bloom.

CENTRAL: Limited precipitation was received. Winter weeds and grasses and small grains are providing good forage for wildlife and livestock. Corn is emerging. Producers are planting grain sorghum. Wheat is showing potential for rust outbreak. Fruit trees are blooming.

SOUTHEAST: Daytime temperatures were cool with warm spring-like weather at night. Some ground was broken for spring planting, but intermittent showers slowed progress. No crop diseases or insects were reported. Livestock are doing well.

SOUTHWEST: After 40 days without rain, the region has received about 1.3 inches of rain since March 11, with more rain forecasted. The rain and mild temperatures caused the region to green up. Bluebonnets and woody species are blooming. Wheat and oats are progressing. Corn, sorghum and potatoes plant stands are reported as good. Cotton planting progressed. But even with recent rain, the soil profile remains very dry. Cabbage and spinach harvests continues.

COASTAL BEND: Farmers continued to plant and reported good stands; however, recent rains left some areas too wet to plant. Spring green up arrived, and pastures and rangeland are in excellent condition. Warmer soil temperatures have allowed warm-season pastures to grow faster. Supplemental feeding of livestock is limited. Livestock are in good condition.

SOUTH: Soil moisture conditions were adequate. Dry and windy conditions caused the top soil moisture in some areas to dry out quickly. Dryland sorghum progressed well from recent rainfall; however, more rain is needed. Cotton, corn and sorghum planting continued. Cabbage, sugarcane, citrus and vegetable harvesting continued in some areas. Some growers have harvested onions. Watermelon and other spring planting began. Row crops in some areas are completely planted for the spring. Range and pasture conditions have continued to improve, and spring forage production has reached its peak. Some livestock producers reported a drop in supplemental feeding. Livestock body conditions have improved with the availability of much-needed grazing.

WTO may still influence farm bill

Chances of World Trade Organization negotiators reaching an agreement by summer may be slim, but talks go on and continue to influence U.S. farm bill debates.

The primary goal of those talks, as stated in the Hong Kong meetings, is to eliminate all export subsidies by 2013. A key hope for United States agriculture is that a Doha agreement will open markets to U.S. farm goods. Trade observers also hope better market access will reverse a long, disturbing trend for farm exports.

“The U.S. share of ag exports has been declining since the 1960s,” said Jaime Malaga, with the Texas Tech Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, at the recent Texas AG Forum in Austin.

“The United States (farm economy) depends on agricultural exports,” Malaga said. “We export one out of every three acres we produce, 30 percent of our production. But annual export growth, 3 percent, is not enough. Brazil’s export growth rate is 20 percent per year.”

He said U.S. ag export share stood at 38 percent from 1950 through 1959. In 2005, share had dropped to only 9 percent. “It’s shrinking rapidly.”

Malaga said tariffs limit access. “We need a severe cut in tariffs,” he said, “to gain market access.”

The G-20 countries, a coalition of 21 developing nations formed in 2003 before the Cancun meetings to push for agricultural trade regulations that favored their interests, represents a serious challenge.

Those countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, China, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe) account for 60 percent of the world’s population. They also maintain high tariffs.

Sensitive products (those granted exemptions under trade rules) help these countries maintain trade barriers, Malaga said. “Some 90 percent of G-20 products get tariff protection,” he said. “That’s way too much protection for market access.”

He outlined three possible scenarios for WTO talks going into the summer.

“The first is an agreement before June 1, 2007. To accomplish that, we need a breakthrough by late March or early April. Then we have to get U.S. Congress approval to begin implementation by 2008.”

An agreement that soon would affect farm bill debates,” Malaga said.

A second scenario puts an agreement after June. That would require a breakthrough before June. “Congress would have to approve Trade Promotion Authority.”

A third scenario would be no agreement. “That means we lose five years of negotiations and negative effects on WTO credibility,” Malaga said.

Malaga said with no Doha deal nations would be more interested in regional free trade agreements. The United States would continue with bilateral agreements. Those could include Asian trade agreements with China, Japan, India and others possibly creating trade blocs.

The United States already has bilateral trade agreements in the works. Agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama await congressional approval. Others are in negotiation stages.

Without a WTO agreement, Malaga, expects more litigation against U.S. farm programs and said corn, soybeans, wheat and rice would be targets. “Canada pressed a corn case in January.” Others could follow from the European Union, Brazil and Argentina.

“It will be difficult to come up with an agreement in a short time,” Malaga said. “The sensitive product loophole remains a problem to market access.”

He said convincing developing nations to reduce tariff rates also promises to be difficult, especially the G-20 countries.

He said the demand to separate cotton from other commodities poses serious concerns for the U.S. cotton industry.

email: rsmith@farmpress.com

Georgia announces April 10 as Vidalia onion shipping date

Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin has announced the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel has recommended April 10 as the shipping date to begin the 2007 Vidalia Onion Marketing Season.

The Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel recommended the date after examining this year’s crop and determining the best times to harvest and begin shipping. Vidalia onions shipped prior to April 10 must have a federal-state inspection certificate stating the onions have met the established grade requirements and are under “positive lot identification” as approved by the federal-state inspection service.

“The Georgia Department of Agriculture and the Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel share the common goal of maintaining the quality of one of Georgia’s signature crops. Onions that are harvested and shipped too early and do not meet the grade requirements can damage the reputation of this important crop. None of us wants to see the name Vidalia attached to a substandard product,” said Commissioner Irvin.

The Vidalia Onion Advisory Panel consists of individuals involved in growing or packing Vidalia onions; at least one county cooperative Extension agent from the Vidalia onion production area; and any other person or persons selected by the Commissioner of Agriculture for the purpose of rendering advice regarding Vidalia onions.

“This is going to be a great year for Vidalia onions,” said Irvin. “I am looking forward to slicing one on a grilled hamburger.”

The Vidalia onion crop was worth $82 million in 2006, according to Irvin.

Bronson applauds measures to support Florida agriculture

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson has announced his strong support of legislation in Congress that would provide Florida farmers with the same level of federal assistance other states have long been provided. The bill would ensure specialty crop farmers, such as those that grow fresh fruits, vegetables and nursery plants, have access to a wide array of federal agricultural programs.

The measure — known as the Equitable Agriculture Today for a Healthy America Act (EAT Healthy Act) — is being sponsored by Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow, and co-sponsored by Florida congressional delegation members Reps. Tim Mahoney, Allen Boyd, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Alcee Hastings. The legislation has 67 co-sponsors.

“I applaud the efforts of our congressional members for putting together legislation that elevates the status of Florida’s agriculture industry,” Bronson said. “This bill contains a number of provisions that, if included in the 2007 farm bill, will provide the resources specialty crops need to ensure their sustainability and competitiveness.”

Major issues addressed by the bill include:

Nutrition: It requires federal feeding programs, including school lunch and school breakfast programs, to adhere to the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines, which call for the consumption of greater amounts of fruits and vegetables to combat obesity and other childhood health issues.

Pest and Disease: It provides a number of tools to combat pests and diseases currently threatening fruit, vegetable and nursery production.

Competitiveness: It increases specialty crops access to valuable export markets by enhancing a number of existing federal programs.

Research: The bill increases funding for research involving specialty crops, as well as increased funding for research into the prevention of invasive plant pests and diseases that afflict fruit, vegetable and nursery crops.

Conservation: It increases opportunities for specialty crop producers to access conservation programs.

Until now, the majority of federal programs have been geared toward “program” crops which include wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and rice. This legislation puts Florida’s specialty crops on a more even playing field when vying for federal program dollars. The assistance is not provided through direct payments, but instead focuses on pest and disease eradication, research, expanding market access for exports and requiring that imported fruits and vegetables have undergone the same steps as U.S. producers to prevent pest infestations, pesticide residue and address other safety issues.

“Florida ranks second in the nation in the production of fruit, vegetable and nursery crops,” Bronson said. “Specialty crops are a major contributor to the economy and now account for 54 percent of farm gate receipts nationwide. A globally competitive specialty crop industry is imperative to production of an abundant, affordable food supply.”

In addition to Bronson’s strong support, the legislation is being supported by Florida Citrus Mutual, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, the Florida Tomato Exchange, the Florida Watermelon Association and other organizations representing Florida agriculture.

Agriculture is the second largest industry in Florida — trailing only tourism — and has an economic impact of $87 billion a year.

Tennessee suspends burning permits statewide

State Forester Steve Scott has announced that the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s Division of Forestry is suspending the issuance of burning permits statewide until weather conditions improve.

“It’s extremely dry and we’re experiencing an increase in wildfire activity across the state. With most areas being well below average in rainfall and with very little precipitation predicted in the near future, we are suspending the issuance of burning permits in the state until further notice,” said Scott.

Activities affected by the burning restriction includes, but is not limited to, outdoor burning of brush and leaves, forested areas and burning to clear land. During official fire season, Oct. 15 through May 15, state law requires citizens to get a burning permit before conducting any open, outdoor burning. During fire season, anyone burning without a permit is subject to a Class C misdemeanor.

“The burning permit system is a very important wildfire prevention tool that allows us to communicate with citizens about how, where and when it is safe, and when it is not safe, to burn,” said Scott.

“By suspending burning permits, we’re able to help reduce the chances of escaped debris fires, which are a major cause of wildfire in Tennessee. We’re also able to devote more firefighting resources to where they’re needed the most.”

According to state forestry officials, so far this year 1,320 wildfires have consumed more than 19,900 acres of forestland and have threatened or destroyed numerous homes and other structures. In March alone, Tennessee has had 841 fires that have burned nearly 15,000 acres, up 46 percent from the average number of acres consumed during the month.

Escaped debris burns are a leading cause of wildfire. However, 40 percent of the wildfires so far this year have been due to arson, which is a class C felony punishable by three to 15 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. Anyone with information about suspected arson activity should call the state Fire Marshal’s Arson Hotline toll-free at 1-800-762-3017.

For more information about the status of burning permits, call your local state Division of Forestry office or visit online at www.tennessee.gov/agriculture/forestry then click on Fire Information.