Farming can be a dusty profession. It’s part of working with the soil and working with the animals. But yours is an honorable profession. Feeding the world, right? So you’re not worrying about government regulation of the dust on your farm, miles from town. But what happens to the farm if governments DO increase regulation on dust? Just ask farmers in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Gary H. Baise wrote an interesting blog post recently, Arizona Loses to EPA on Farm Dust. He outlines how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring dust conditions and making determinations on how to treat area farms based on their readings. What we learn though, is that the EPA has total control over where they set their monitors. And to the folks in Arizona, they don’t seem to be getting a fair shake with their one monitor located near a dry river bed, a landfill, a sand and gravel operation and empty industrial lots. Regardless, EPA says measurements have exceeded the current PM-10 standard of 150 µg/m3 four times in the last three years and they have authority to start imposing limits and fines. Never mind the 99.73% compliance over three years, or the fact that the four violations were “Exceptional Events” due to high winds, etc.
So here’s the more concerning part of the story. According to National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald, the EPA is considering moving forward with a proposed rule to regulate coarse particulate matter (dust) at levels as low as 65-85 µg/m3, TWICE as stringent as the current PM-10 standard. What’s striking, according to Donald, is If EPA moves forward with this, ranchers could be fined for everyday activities like driving down the road, moving cattle or tilling a field.
Do you still think government won’t bother you about dust on your farm?
I visited with Brad Thykeson, Vice President of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association at Commodity Classic. He spoke about emissions standards affecting farmers and the rural versus urban environment:
“I can understand emission standards in heavy traffic areas around cities where thousands of trucks are churning out diesel exhaust and even more automobiles are on the highways. But if you’ve been to a field in North Dakota it’s entirely different. We have some of the cleanest air you’ll ever breathe, and we’re often miles away from population centers. I just don’t see how one diesel tractor or a pickup kicking up dust down the road has the same kind of impact.”
Many in agriculture are watching this closely. As demand for food and commodity prices continues to rise, production efficiency is becoming more and more important. In his blog post Gary H. Baise lists additional practices which may be required in the future, such as dust shrouds around tillage implements and harvesters, spray bars that emit a mist to knock down dust, modifying existing tillage equipment to prevent dust from becoming airborne during tillage and harvesting operations, reducing harvest activity by reducing the number of harvest passes, timing a tillage operation to a time that will minimize soil movement, and reduce the number of trips in to and out of a farm field.
How will all this impact productivity? In turn, how will this impact demand and food prices?
If the EPA gets its way, fines may be frequent and production growth may stall. In the end, it will be both the farmer and the consumer who gets dusted.
Photo credit to charminbayurr on flickr