The United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) works in a voluntary and collaborative manner with agricultural producers to solve natural resource issues on private lands. One of the key steps in formulating a solution to those natural resource issues is a conservation planning process that identifies the issues, highlights one or more conservation practice standards that can be used to address those issues, and allows the agricultural producer to select those conservation practices that make sense for their operation. In this conservation planning process, USDA-NRCS looks at natural resource issues related to soil, water, air, plants, animals, and energy (SWAPA+E). This presentation focuses on the resource concerns related to the air resource.
What Did We Do
In order to facilitate the conservation planning process for the air resource, USDA-NRCS has focused on five main issues: emissions of particulate matter (PM) and PM precursors, emissions of ozone precursors, emissions of airborne reactive nitrogen, emissions of greenhouse gases, and objectionable odors. Each of these resource concerns are further subdivided into resource concern components that are mainly associated with different types of sources or activities found on agricultural operations. By focusing on those agricultural sources and activities that have the largest impact on each of these air quality and atmospheric change resource concerns, USDA-NRCS has developed a set of planning criteria for determining when a resource concern exists. We have also identified those conservation practice standards that can be used to address each of the resource concern components.
What Have We Learned
Our focus on the agricultural sources and activities that have the largest impact on air quality has helped to evolve the conservation planning process by adding resource concern components that are targeted and simplified. This approach has led to a clearer definition of when a resource concern is identified, as well as how to address it. For example, the particulate-matter focused resource concern has been divided into the following resource concern components: diesel engines, non-diesel engine combustion equipment, open burning, pesticide drift, nitrogen fertilizer, dust from field operations, dust from unpaved roads, windblown dust, and confined animal activities. Each of these types of sources can produce particles directly or gases that contribute to fine particle formation. In order to know whether a farm has a particulate matter resource concern, a conservation planner would need to determine whether one or more of these sources is causing an issue. Once the source(s) of the particulate matter issue is identified, a site-specific application of conservation practices can be used to resolve the resource concern.
We expect that increased clarity in the conservation planning process will lead to a greater understanding of the air quality and atmospheric change resource concerns and how agricultural producers can reduce air emissions and impacts. Simple and clear direction should eventually lead to greater acceptance of addressing air quality and atmospheric change resource concerns.
USDA-NRCS will continue to refine our approach to addressing air quality and atmospheric change resource concerns. As we gain a greater scientific understanding of the processes by which air emissions are generated and air pollutants are transported from agricultural operations, we can better target our efforts to address these emissions and their resultant impacts. Internally, we will be working throughout our agency to identify those areas where we can collaboratively work with agricultural producers to improve air quality.
Greg Zwicke, Air Quality Engineer, USDA-NRCS National Air Quality and Atmospheric Change Team
Allison Costa, Air Quality Engineer, USDA-NRCS National Air Quality and Atmospheric Change Team
General information about the USDA-NRCS can be found at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov. An overview of the conservation planning process is available at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/technical/cta/?cid=nrcseprd1690815.
The USDA-NRCS website for air quality and atmospheric change is https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/air/.
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