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Tool to help winter air quality on trial

A new software tool is being trialled by some Hawke’s Bay orchardists and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council this winter to assess its potential for reducing air pollution.

The Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers’ Association asked Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to help orchardists decide when the appropriate conditions are present for lighting fires.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has developed the online tool which recognises the location of the cell phone or laptop being used and pulls together data from council’s climate monitoring sites to give a burning status of the weather conditions.The data gives air quality, wind speed, air shed boundaries and uses air temperature at different heights to indicate whether smoke might be trapped at low levels by a temperature inversion.

“This is an innovative tool that the regional council team has developed to reduce risks associated with winter burning,” says Iain Maxwell, Group Manager Integrated Catchment Manager. “It will help responsible orchardists to really get it right.”

Council rules allow burning of orchard and vineyard prunings for orchard development or removing diseased material. The Fruitgrowers’ Association has provided a good practice guide for its members to highlight the rules about burning dry prunings and taking wind speed and direction into account.

“Making decisions on the day can be difficult for orchardists on the ground, without the real-time data that this tool now provides,” says Dr Kathleen Kozyniak, Air Quality scientist. “A few orchardists are trialling the tool through winter and will give us feedback as it needs to work for them.”

The tool displays a ‘burning status’ based on whether atmospheric stability and wind speed in the criteria set out by the Regional Air Plan and in the Association’s Good Practice Guide. The software displays ‘Don’t Burn’ and colour codes the reason (such as a temperature inversion) or ‘Caution’ if conditions are suitable. Then the orchardists makes a final check on where the smoke plume will go and decide if that’s a suitable direction which will avoid impacts to neighbours and the urban areas.

Even with the new software providing assistance, orchardists should still be waiting until their wood is dry and good to burn, so that the fire burns hot with less smoke.

The Air Plan prohibits burning below 10km an hour when it is considered too still for smoke to clear, but over 25 km/hr it becomes a fire risk.p “You’d be surprised how often the wind is below 10km across the plains,” says Dr Kozyniak.

Replacing inefficient open fires and wood burners in Hastings and Napier homes has reduced air pollution -considerably, and all outdoor burning in the cities is prohibited. However Council rules allow burning of orchard and vineyard prunings for orchard development or removing diseased material.

“The fruit growing industry depends on outdoor burning on this scale, but the plume can be very visible and can affect a wide area so the council often gets complaints from the public. By providing a tool that orchardists can use, we hope that there will be fewer smoke incidents,” says Mr Maxwell.

The tool is still in trial with orchardists and is not located on Council’s website at present.

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