Farm ammonia insignificant compared to wood stoves, vehicle emissions
Ammonia emissions from dairy barns and fields not harmful.
(The following article appeared in the Yakima Valley Business Times, January 9, 2016)
Air quality in the Yakima Valley gets worse during the winter months, from November to February, when many residents keep warm with wood burning stoves that, when blended with vehicle emissions, bring significant air quality challenges in the Valley . The Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency (YRCAA) continues to work on improving air quality with local residents and businesses, including farms. Although research reveals small amounts of ammonia emissions from farms, experts say these emissions are insignificant and do not pose an overall threat to human health.
Pius Ndegwa, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering at Washington State University, is a nationally recognized expert in Biological Systems Engineering. Ndegwa was Washington state’s principle investigator in a two-year ammonia emissions monitoring study that involved 15 universities across the U.S., measuring ammonia concentrations in dairy barns and from lagoons. Research findings, published in peer reviewed journals, revealed that ammonia emissions were “very low” in the barns and in the air immediately outside the barns.
“Our long term studies indicate concentrations or levels of ammonia in the barns and air outside the dairy barns are significantly below the permissible exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety Health (NIOSH),” Dr. Ndegwa says. “The data indicate that even in the rare event that a farm worker is in the barn for an entire 8-hour shift, there should be little safety or health concern from exposure to ammonia.”
“In an open dry lot, ammonia concentrations average approximately 1 part-per-million (ppm), which is also significantly lower than OSHA and NIOSH levels to trigger any health concerns,” Dr. Ndegwa continued. “Other research data indicate that ammonia emissions from field land following surface manure nutrient application fall in the same order of magnitude as that in the barns or dry-lots – and much lower if manure is directly injected into the soil. Therefore, the issue of health from these emissions would not be applicable, either. And for those living adjacent to fields where manure nutrients are applied, the concentrations they would receive or perceive are much less because ammonia in the air is dispersed during transport downwind.”
Dairy farm safety programs protect workers
Dairy farmers conduct regular “tailgate” safety briefings.
Over the years, sisters Lynne and Laura Rainey have worked every job on their mom and dad’s evolving Rainey family dairy, now a 1,000-acre operation near Deming renamed Coldstream Farms – and they are still at it. Since 1978 the Rainey family has produced high-quality Darigold milk by taking great care of their cows while maintaining high standards for worker safety, training and manure management/ dairy nutrient planning. Although the farm has grown over the years, it remains a family farm, now with 23 full time employees.
While Laura Rainey Smith and her mother, Vickie Rainey, manage the business side, son-in-law Galen Smith has taken a larger management role with family patriarch/founder Jeff Rainey, who works to apply best farming practices. Galen’s brother, Brad Smith, manages the farm’s Dairy Nutrient Management Plan and all the required record-keeping.
Lynne Rainey Wheeler performs a “mixed bag” of work on the farm. She invests most of her time working the “cow side” with a veterinarian, an animal nutritionist and employees to keep their 1,300 dairy cows healthy and productive – while emitting less manure with nutritious feed formulas that are prepared every day in a computerized mixer. The farm’s new Trioliet Stationary Mixer
can provide various feed formulas to keep their cows healthy and productive while emitting less.
“I work directly with our veterinarian on everything from new born babies to milking protocols and pregnancy checks,” she says. “I have a wonderful relationship with our vet as we work with individual animals and look at the herd as a whole to prevent disease and make certain our herd is moving in the right direction.”
Air quality management improves for future generations
Enhanced feed formulas have reduced emissions
Every business organization that emits particulate matter into Valley air is subject to Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency (YRCAA) inspection, review and deployment of “best management practices” (BMP) to reduce emissions. Livestock agriculture is no exception — as the YRCAA works with livestock operations, including dairy farmers, on BMPs to minimize farm related dust emissions.
Dr. Hasan M. Tahat has worked as an environmental engineer with the YRCAA for more than 17 years with a professional goal of “improving air quality for future generations.” He has visited more than 50 Valley dairies over time, advising farmers about practices and systems to reduce emissions and suppress odor.
“The dairies have generally gone beyond what is required, including some farms that have completely enclosed the feeding systems; developed various nutrition feed profiles and feed management systems; and made changes in the milking parlor and grazing and manure management,” he said. “And 99% of Valley dairies have a nutritionist consultant for a nutrition system that eventually reduces emissions and odor while maintaining production and milking cow care.”
Valley dairies joined with the YRCAA in 2010 to identify eight common air pollutants for which science-based systems could be employed to prevent or reduce emissions and odor. Applying recommendations from the National Academy of Science, and collaborative work with dairy farmers and the YRCAA, science-based systems for BMPs were established for: Nutrition; Feed Management; Housing – freestall barns; Housing – dry lot pens; Grazing; Manure Management; and Land Application (fertilizer and manure-based fertilizer).
Dairyland News is distributed to dairy farm families, business leaders/dairy farm suppliers, government staff, elected officials, and news media to show how dairy farmers contribute to the community, with safe operations, best farm management practices and effective stewardship of land and animals. Dairyland News is produced by the Washington Dairy Products Commission in cooperation with the Washington State Dairy Federation.
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