As more fields burn, respiratory experts see increase in patients

LEPANTO, AR (KAIT) - It's harvest time for many farmers in Region 8 and some have chosen to burn what's left of their rice and wheat fields.

It's something you commonly see on the horizon during the fall; that puffy white smoke billowing higher into the sky.

And while there has been no scientific proof that links rice smoke to carcinogens, any type of smoke is unhealthy.

Each fall, doctor's offices fill up with patients complaining of respiratory problems.

So some farmers are turning to a safer alternative in rice baling.

Mike Adams of Caraway is a retired farmer, but still raves about the benefits of baling rice straw.

"You're getting the straw off, where they can go ahead and work the ground up without the stubble. But you're not putting the smoke in the air."

Adams says it takes four days to finish an entire rice field, at a rate of one bale per five minutes.

Each rice bale is around five feet tall and weighs close to seven hundred pounds.

"I take a big hay rake and then I rake it up in rows, and then I use the baler to bale it."

Setting fire to the field is much easier as it only takes thirty minutes for it to be completely burned off.

But the fire removes much of the organics the soil needs to remain fertile.

"It's quicker, and it saves a little fuel if they want to plant wheat. They can work it up a little easier. But they're not getting that organic matter put in the ground."

Due to a rainy spring, farmers are getting a late start to the harvest.

This could have health implications for the public. Each year, allergy and respiratory experts see a spike in cases as the number of controlled fires also rise.

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