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Smoke from untimely and inappropriate burning of crop residue in Manitoba has been an issue of concern to numerous Manitobans during many harvest seasons. Heavy smoke conditions have at times caused great difficulty for many people, especially those with respiratory problems, as well as hazardous driving conditions on many Manitoba roads.
To address this growing concern, education and extension programs were put into place that were very effective at reducing the amount of burning that occurred in many areas of the province. Actually, the severity of smoke problems is not so much a function of the amount of burning that occurs, as it is a consequence of the timing of burning and the prevailing weather conditions. Most smoke problems arise as a direct result of burning when smoke dispersion conditions are minimal, for example, in the late evening and at night.
In 1992 the large crop, coupled with damp, late harvest conditions, resulted in many producers choosing to burn their residues. The combination of poor smoke dispersion conditions and large amounts of straw being burned resulted in heavy smoke that covered several parts of Manitoba for an extended period of time.
The public reaction from these conditions was unprecedented, forcing the government to take immediate action. On October 8, 1992 a state-of-emergency was declared and the government imposed a seven-day ban on stubble burning. During the seven days, an Emergency Measures Organization team with representatives from a number of departments, and in consultation with farm and municipal representatives, devised a Controlled Burning Program which was put in place from October 14 to November 3. The intent was to assist producers in burning crop residues at times when the impact from smoke would be minimized. The program was viewed as reasonably successful.
After the fall of 1992, a Crop Residue Burning Advisory Committee was formed and given the mandate of balancing the two sides of this contentious issue. The Committee consisted of representation from Keystone Agricultural Producers, a farmer-at-large, Manitoba Lung Association, Concerned Parents of Children with Asthma, and the Manitoba government departments of Conservation, Health and Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives. The objective of the Committee was to conduct “a consultative process with rural and urban citizens and stakeholders leading to the development of measures and enforcement procedures to prevent the infiltration of residential areas by smoke during harvest season.” The Committee considered opinions and recommendations from a variety of rural and urban residents and organizations, and reached a consensus regarding a Smoke Reduction Management Plan for the control of smoke from crop residue burning. The Plan encompasses regulations, activities and systems to lead to a significant ongoing reduction in the extent of crop residue burning and the negative impact on the health and safety of people, and ultimately on the quality of the environment. The most comprehensive and effective component of this Smoke Management Plan has been the Burning of Crop Residue and Non-Crop Herbage Regulation that was enacted under the Environment Act on April 8, 1993.