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A-State receives grants to study crop burning

A-State receives grants to study crop burning

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JONESBORO — Arkansas State University received two grants this month for research that will study prescribed crop burns to improve guidelines as well as their negative health effects.

Researchers recently received a $571,940 grant through the Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture program for a cooperative study titled “Improving crop residue burning and management recommendations in the Arkansas Delta Region.”

The project director of the study is Aaron Shew, assistant professor and R.E.L.

Wilson chairman of Agricultural Economics in A-State’s college of agriculture, who will be working with researchers from the University of Arkansas, University of Arkansas’ division of agriculture, Miami University and the University of Delaware. AState is the lead university on the project.

A-State professors Joe Ford and Ross Carroll will also be joining Shew in the study, which will run through May 2023.

The main goal of the project is to monitor in-field burns and to improve guidelines for prescribed burns, Shew said.

'Ideally, we'll be able to reduce smoke in populated areas by improving the guidelines for crop residue burning,' he said.

Shew said the project hopes to be able to have a general metric for the best times for farmers under financial and time pressure to burn. Ford is hoping to build a smartphone app that will give a simulation of what would happen if a farmer was to burn at the time they were in the field.

Shew explained that controlled burning is more cost-effective than tilling.

Producers are able to save on man-hours and fuel costs by burning. As part of the project, researchers are also planning to survey producers and residents in the area, which is expected to start within a year. Part of the survey will be to see if residents would be willing to offset tilling costs.

Shew also believes the project will open up opportunities for A-State’s College of Agriculture. The project will change the capacity to do high-level applied research for the area and state, and the universities plan to hire graduate and undergraduate students to work on the project, Shew said.

Dr. Troy Camarata, assistant professor at NYITCOM at A-State, received a grant for a study titled 'Exploring Causative Relationship Between Agricultural Burning and Negative Public Health Outcomes in the Arkansas Delta.” The study will look at how air pollution in Northeast Arkansas, where controlled burning is typical, impacts the health of residents.

Camarata said the research has been ongoing since the summer of 2018, and he intends to collaborate with Shew on their studies since they’re looking at the same problem from different sides. Ford will work on the project as well to develop a public information tool with an app that will give users the local air quality and recommendations.

'We want to provide evidence one way or another if there is a correlation between agricultural burning and public health,' Camarata said.

The data that’s been collected so far will move the project forward to collect additional patient data. In the study they will be looking at data from asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.

A 2016 study conducted by the VA St. Louis Health Care System showed that ambient air pollution may be a significant driver of chronic kidney disease.

According to the CDC, chronic lower respiratory diseases were the third leading cause of death in Arkansas in 2016 and 2017 and Arkansas had the fourth highest death rate for chronic lower respiratory diseases in 2018.

Agriculture industries and landowners across

Continued on Page 11 STATE NEWS (cont.)

Arkansas are able to use a voluntary system to better manage crop burning by assuring that air quality and human health are not compromised by smoke.

Prescribed fires can be reported to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, which then lists the fires on its website to keep residents in nearby areas informed about possible smoke in the area. The department also recommends completing a safe burning checklist before a prescribed burn, and warns against burning if winds exceed 15 mph, humidity is below 20 percent and when the wind direction could send smoke directly into roadways or communities.

Last fall the Arkansas Department of Agriculture received six calls reporting prescribed burns in Craighead County, public information manager Anna Thrash said. According to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture, Craighead County has over 300,000 acres of farmland.

While Arkansas’ system is voluntary, other states have adopted laws to regulate controlled burns. California requires its producers and landowners to have a burning permit, burn only on days determined by local air districts and shred and pile residue when possible.

In Washington and Oregon farmers can be fined for burning on no-burn days, and they must receive a burning permit. Louisiana requires certified burn managers to be present at prescribed burns.

In November of 2017, Dr.

Warren Skaug published his findings on agricultural burning in Northeast Arkansas. The document, which was signed by 32 Northeast Arkansas physicians, expressed an urgent concern about the adverse health effects of agricultural burning. It found that there is a spike in respiratory illnesses in the fall, and the three realistic goals should be a significant decrease in total burning, elimination of the spikes over population centers and to accomplish those two things with the least pain for farmers and taxpayers.

The study also suggests grants and mandates to fund more extensive monitoring should be considered, as well as a permit system with oversight and enforcement and adoption of a burning fee paired with a tax credit for nonburning alternatives.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences researchers found there is a 20.9 percent increase in odds of being treated at the emergency room for asthma and COPD during the fall season in Craighead County. In the study, which spanned from 2014 to 2016, they also found that particulate matter 2.5 levels were higher in the fall that STATE NEWS (cont.)

could be attributed to crop burning.

Other than PM 2.5, agricultural smoke also emits carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, ammonia and sulfur dioxide, according to Skaug's findings.

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LITTLE ROCK — While local school districts are confident in their preparedness for the new school year, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Arkansas Citizens First Congress released a joint statement July 21 urging Arkansas to further delay the start of school this fall.

The statement insists that to open schools safely there should be declining numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the state, a state positivity rate below 5 percent, large-scale test capacity, adequate air ventilation in schools and buses, mandatory masks, and that students keep 5 to 6 feet apart in classrooms, buses, playground and cafeterias.

Arkansas has seen coronavirus cases steadily rise since March, and the cumulative positivity rate was 11 percent and Craighead County’s was 14.7 percent as of July 21, according to covidactnow.org.

Arkansas has also had difficulties putting together large-scale testing. On July 13, the Arkansas federal delegation wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting testing reagents after a reference lab canceled its testing contracts with Arkansas hospitals due to the lack of reagents.

Area schools have made masks mandatory for faculty, staff and any adult who enters the building. While the Arkansas Department of Education recommends giving three cloth face coverings to each employee, Jonesboro Public Schools will provide one mask, according to return guidelines on the schools website, which were posted before Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s mask mandate.

The statement also says that Arkansas schools don’t have the workforce or space to accommodate smaller class sizes for proper social distancing, and many Arkansas facilities are aging and lack reliable air conditioning, ventilation and air filtering.

There is also an issue of providing every student an equal educational opportunity no matter where they live, according to the memo.

An Arkansas Education Association survey from earlier this month with over 6,000 teachers and education support professionals, showed that more than 83 percent were concerned about their health and contracting COVID-19, 82 percent thought it was important that schools closed in the spring to help prevent the spread of the virus, 90 percent are concerned about student health issues related to teaching, 98 percent believe it will be very or somewhat difficult to implement social distancing in schools buildings and more than 56 percent opposed or strongly opposed returning to school this fall.

Gov. Hutchinson said Tuesday at his daily COVID-19 update that he was glad to postpone the fall semester to give school districts more time to prepare. Hutchinson said there’s still a lot of work to do, and teachers have brought up concerns about their own health to him, which he will address over the next 30 days. During the daily update, Hutchinson showed part of an NBC News clip from July 12 where five infectious pediatric disease experts said they would send their children back to school this fall.

However, the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ARAAP) posted a statement that it could not support a statewide return-toschool decision in August.

The statement referenced some Arkansas counties having positive test rates over 30 percent and a lack of standardized policies and resources across the state, which would lead to inequitable protection for children, teachers and families.

The disparities would be detrimental to minority individuals as well as lowincome families who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, according to the statement.

The ARAAP suggests the state prioritize local, datadriven decisions, mandatory masks for K-12 students and teachers, social distancing, state purchasing power and building engineering support.

The statement referenced the White House Opening Up America Again plan, which suggests reopening schools when a region has a downward case trajectory or downward trajectory for the percentage of positive tests for two weeks.

The Little Rock Education Association has also raised concerns about the reopening plan, and on Monday proposed a phased in opening that would begin with online instruction.

Local schools have each implemented similar plans for the upcoming school semester. School districts will allow students to choose between virtual learning and blending learning, adhere to the mask mandate, take extra sanitizing precautions, rearrange classrooms to put more distance between students, practice social distancing when possible and go into the semester with the intention of students having as normal of a day as possible.

Although students and parents will have the option to do online-only learning this fall, students in grades seven through 12 will still be eligible to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. Students must attend one class in person on the campus to be eligible; however, the sport or activity can be the class.

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