Farmers may know sooner when they can burn preens and brush under a new computerized system developed by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
The new system also caps the amount of burn emissions approved at any time, according to the district.
Farmers can call an automated voice system after 8 p.m. or log onto the district's Web site the day before they want to burn to get permission. Under the old system, farmers could not get clearance until the day they wanted to burn.
Through the automated system, farmers have until 2 p.m. the same day to get clearance.
"We think it's going to be very user friendly for the farmer," said Wayne Clark, compliance manager with the pollution control district.
Farmers can still call the district between 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. to talk to a person to get approval to burn that day, he noted.
The pollution control district's region, which was divided into three agricultural burn permit zones, is now split into 103 zones. Within each zone, burning will be decided on several factors, including local meteorological conditions, the level of emissions from the burns and the proximity to urban areas, a district spokeswoman said.
The computer system determines how many emissions can occur in any one zone.
Four zones encompass Tracy and its immediate area, Clark said.
On Wednesday, 95 requests to burn were approved in the district. Of these, 18 were approved with the new system, he said.
"It's more convenient to get permission to burn," said Jim McLeod, who grows walnuts on 140 acres near Tracy. "That is an improvement."
But there are always more restrictions for burning, he cautioned, saying the rules vary on how much time the materials need to dry, how they can be stacked before they can be burned and where they can be burned.
About 14,000 people hold burn permits in the district, including 550 in the Tracy area.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District covers eight counties, including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and a portion of Kern.
For information on the new smoke management program, call 557-6400 or go to www.sms.valleyair.org.