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Stubble-burning – stricter rules coming

The Proposed Canterbury Air Regional Plan – which is still going through a hearing process and is expected to be operative later this year – includes new rules and conditions that farmers will need to abide by when burning crop residue and other green waste, to manage smoke impacts.

Earlier this year, people throughout Canterbury contacted Environment Canterbury and made complaints about smoke being produced by stubble-burning, with some asking how the activity is regulated.

Environment Canterbury Regional Manager RMA Monitoring and Compliance, Marty Mortiaux, says burn-offs often occur at this time of year, especially immediately prior to a southerly, so rain could dampen it down afterwards.

"It’s acceptable to burn crop residue in Canterbury but we have signalled a stricter rule framework under the proposed Canterbury Air Plan. Provided we are given accurate information regarding the address of the source we will investigate each complaint for compliance with the rules," Mortiaux says.

While the Proposed Air Plan will introduce new conditions to meet when burning green waste in rural areas, it also proposes that a resource consent will be required for stubble-burning inside buffer zones around the towns of Timaru and Ashburton.

Other rules in the Proposed Air Plan require farmers to have a Smoke Management Plan for stubble-burning taking place outside of buffer zones, and for any other large scale burn which lasts for more than three days.

The Smoke Management Plan requires land managers to consider: what material is to be burned and whether it is wet, dry, standing, solid or loose; the weather forecast, including wind speed and direction; who may be affected by any smoke, and whether they have been notified; whether a permit from the relevant Fire Authority is required; and a description of the actions to be taken to minimise the effects on people.

This could mean choosing appropriate wind conditions so that smoke blows away from neighbours and towns, locating the fire in a remote area, and preparing the fire so that the material burns fast and hot.

Mr Mortiaux says that until the Proposed Air Plan is fully operative, a “permitted regime”, where burning should have no offensive or objectionable effect, is in place.

“We’re going to actively follow up on stubble-burning complaints by identifying the properties involved and investigating the circumstances.”

Benefits of stubble-burning

In Timaru, Geraldine and Ashburton, smoke has been produced from burning green waste which can include tree waste and shelter belts and crop residue.

Burning crop residue (stubble-burning) has a key role to play in New Zealand’s cropping industry. It acts as a rotational management tool for the establishment of small seeded export crops such as grass seed and vegetable seed that cannot be grown in paddocks, which contain large amounts of residue from previous crops, and particularly cereals.

Some crops cannot be grown in paddocks containing large amounts of residue. Burning that residue enables timely and successful establishment of high value, small-seeded crops with minimal  cultivation in a more weed, pest and disease-free environment.

This process also reduces agrichemical usage.

Of the 700,000 tonnes of crop residue produced annually in Canterbury, about 300,000 tonnes is currently burnt.

What is currently allowed and where?

As well as burning vegetation for land preparation, outdoor burning also includes fires in an incinerator or container such as a metal drum or brazier. These activities can occur on all rural zoned properties, however properties in a Clean Air Zone are only allowed to burn between 1 September and 30 April each year.

There are Clean Air Zones for Christchurch, Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Ashburton, Geraldine, Timaru, and Waimate urban and rural areas.

A guide to outdoor burning of green waste on rural properties

The following conditions must be met:

  • Burn only vegetation, paper, cardboard or untreated wood from your own property and up to two adjacent properties.
  • The fire must be 100m upwind or 50m in any other direction from any sensitive activity (i.e. school, dwelling or gathering place etc).
  • Material to be burnt must be left to dry for at least 6 weeks or the fire must be located at least 200m from any sensitive activity. If within 15km of an urban area; burning can only occur when wind speed is between 1 and 15km/hr.
  • If the burn is likely to occur for 3 or more days, a smoke management plan is required. The smoke must not cause a nuisance beyond your property boundary.

To report a fire nuisance or illegal fire, call the Pollution Hotline: 0800 76 55 88.

To find out what Clean Air Zone you are in visit: www.canterburymaps.govt.nz .

For more information on outdoor burning phone: 0800 324 676.