Ban on field burning forces farmer to innovate

Ban on field burning forces farmer to innovate

BROWNSVILLE, Ore. - The field burning phaseout sweeps the smoke out of the Willamette Valley next summer.
          
It means a big change for the grass seed business. Some growers aren't ready to panic.

Grass seed grower Wendell Manning knows his tall fescue from his rye grass. 

He's also an innovator.

"Oh, that's just kind of a habit of mine.  I like to change things," says the nearly retired grass seed farmer.

These days, he has to innovate: The field burning phaseout bill is going to be a law.

Since the 1940s, grass-seed fields in the Willamette Valley had been routinely burned after seed harvest to clean the fields of pests and disease.

By next summer, that option will essentially be gone. 

Manning plans to drill instead burn.

"I built all of these mounts and brackets and everything for these drill cleaners," explains Manning in his work shop.

He's designed this gizmo that attaches to a "no-till" drill. It cuts a path in the dirt for new seed to be planted on the finely chopped stubble that he leaves on the ground.

No burning required.

That and other innovations helped Manning transition from a farm that relied on field burning "to just in a few years completely shift to no field burning," says Mark Mellbye, staff agronomist with the OSU Extension Service. "We're going to learn a lot more about 'no till' options."

"We can't lose our job," farmer Manning jokes, "we're stuck with it, but we might lose money."
   
He tested his plowing attachment on 600 acres of his land last year.  Harvesting of the crop is still in progress, so Manning can't say how well the seed has turned out.