Burning trash on farms
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Burning trash, both farm wastes and domestic wastes, is a common practice on many farms. Sometimes it is burned in burn barrels, but usually the quantities are so large that it is simply piled on the ground and ignited. State agriculture agencies have been trying to deal with this problem for many years now. Some states grant legal exceptions allowing farms to burn despite prohibitions for residences burning trash.

Cornell University Extension Service has a division devoted to farm waste management. One of their studies on agricultural plastics found that almost all NY farmers dispose of plastic by burning or burying it on site.

Wastes commonly burned include virtually everything discarded on a farm: hundreds of pounds of agricultural plastic used for bale wraps or other purposes; all domestic waste including packaging plastic, diapers, old toys, batteries, cans and glass; empty pesticide and herbicide containers, old lumber and pallets, some of which may be contaminated with lead paint or preservatives such as pentachlorophenol and arsenic; old tires; used motor oil; old appliances and implements; construction and demolition debris.

The New York Farm Bureau, a lobby group for agriculture interests, has opposed all legislation prohibiting open trash burning. Their latest position memo reaffirms their opposition. See also an earlier position memo from May 2002.

The main argument of the NY Farm Bureau is that properly disposing of agricultural plastics such as hay bale wrap is too expensive or inconvenient. Yet two New York dairy farmers who switched from burning their ag plastics and other farm and household wastes to proper disposal found that the cost was insignificant and it did not take more time than burning. An update and more details of the current state of farm burning and proper disposal alternatives is available from meeting minutes of the St. Lawrence County Ag. and Farmland Protection Board.


Photographs of farm burn piles

Taken at dairy farms in St. Lawrence County, NY, one of the highest dairy production areas in the Northeast. Milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt from here are sold in New York City and all across the United States.

large pile of burning trash beside corn field

large pile of burning trash beside corn field

piled trash for burning with dairy farm in background

large pile burning farm trash with many plastics and herbicide jugs visible

Photos courtesy Peter Doyle Photography, Greenpeace USA, and Cancer Action NY.

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