Release 98-04

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          CONTACT:            Jerry Martin
February 11, 1998                                                                                            (916) 322-2990
                                                                                                                         www.arb.ca.gov

Rice Crop Infestation in Three Counties Leads To Emergency Burn Agreement

SACRAMENTO - The California Air Resources Board (ARB) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) have issued a joint agreement to allow rice growers to burn limited additional acreage of crops infected with a devastating disease called Rice Blast.

        The action is being taken to prevent the spread of the infestation and protect the state's 508,000 acres of rice from further infestation The infestation has affected 867 fields in 58,000 acres in parts of Glenn, Colusa and Sutter counties.

        "We will strive to incorporate this additional acreage if at all possible into the amount already allowed to be burned," said ARB Chairman John Dunlap. "This will reduce the public's exposure to smoke while protecting California's rice crop."

        In accordance with the 1991 Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act, the agreement will invoke the statute's "Act of God" extraordinary circumstances clause, which allows the number of acres eligible to be burned to increase by 23,000 in the three counties impacted by the disease. This is approximately 4.5 percent of the acres subject to the phase down law this year.

        In October 1996, Rice Blast was found for the first time in California in 8,000 acres of Glenn and Colusa counties and a burn agreement was instituted to lessen the chance of crop devastation. This year's burn agreement allows Glenn County to burn up to 8,000 acres, 11,600 acres in Colusa County and 3,400 in Sutter County.

        The state will continue to pursue measures to control the further spread of this disease. This includes: additional information and education outreach to the public and rice industry; the destruction of rice stubble and straw located in adjacent fields exposed to the infestation; cleaning of rice harvesters and other harvesting equipment; allow the planting of only certified seeds and use seed treatments to prevent any further contamination; avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization; and continue efforts to monitor rice fields for signs of additional outbreaks.

        The disease affects production and yield. Experts believe that the infestation in California may be associated with the combination of high temperatures and high humidity which occurred in the area in the past year.These are the type of weather conditions found in the southeast United States and Asia, where the disease is more common.

        ARB expects the action to have a minimal effect on the amount of acreage which can be burned under existing state law. Burning of fields will be carefully managed under the conditions of the Sacramento Valley Burn Plan, which is designed to ensure the public health and safety. ARB will continue to allow agricultural burning only on days when meteorology conditions are favorable, using state of the art computer analysis to determine proper acreage.

        Senate Bill 318 (Thompson), signed into law in 1997, allows growers to burn a maximum of 50 percent of the rice stubble in Sacramento Valley fields for the next three years. The bill emphasizes that the majority of burning be moved to the Spring and that $5 million be made available for finding alternatives to open burning.

        The Rice Straw Demonstration Project Fund was enacted last year by Senate Bill 318, and the ARB was named as administrator. This followed the 1991 Rice Straw Burning Reduction Act that required rice growers in the Sacramento Valley to phase out burning by 2000. The new law also requires the ARB to help growers, businesses and others affected by the phase down find promising, commercial uses for rice straw.

        The Air Resources Board is a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency. ARB's mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The ARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health based air quality standards.

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