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While we think of straw and chaff strictly as valuable no-till residue, environmentalists in the Pacific Northwest are attempting to get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to label straw and other crop residue materials as solid waste. The result of these legal maneuverings could eventually have a serious impact on the residue management strategies used by no-tillers all around the country.
It’s all based on a desire among environmental groups in Washington and Idaho to ban the burning of straw and residue after harvest by Kentucky bluegrass growers. Yet the solid waste argument has implications for no-tillers, especially among those who produce tremendous amounts of residues from high-yielding crops.
Recent court arguments and findings have brought the straw management issue to a head. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle, Wash., heard arguments to uphold a U.S. District Court decision to allow growers to burn straw and stubble after harvest. Several environmental groups are attempting to use federal environmental statues and state laws regarding nuisance and trespassing and strict liability laws to stop burning of straw and stubble.
In the original court case, the judge decided that straw coming out of the combine and the stubble on the ground was not a solid waste. If he had ruled that residue was solid waste, then it could be regulated by EPA under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. “If this case is lost, it would mean that post-harvest materials such as straw, stubble…