Air quality has been a hot topic in Kansas for some time, especially due to prescribed burning every spring. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Air Quality Task Force convened in Manhattan recently to further explore Kansas air quality issues.

The task force, which is comprised of industry representatives, farmers, ranchers and professors from across the country, meets three times a year at different locations throughout the United States, and is charged with advising the Secretary of Agriculture on major air quality issues.

After a tour of eastern Kansas and two days of meetings hosted at Kansas State University, the task force formed committees to address specific air quality issues, such as particulate matter from prescribed burning and emissions from feed lots. The committees will then identify further research that is necessary to advise the Secretary of Agriculture on policies related to these air quality issues.

Wayne Honeycutt, deputy chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for science and technology, emphasized the necessity of this research in an interview with the Agriculture Today radio show. “Everything we do is based on sound science,” he said. “There have been times we’ve held up because we didn’t have sound science to back it up.”

Without appointing committees, it would not be possible to efficiently address these issues.

“No one person can be an expert on everything,” Honeycutt said. “I know that (the Secretary of Agriculture) embraces this task force of experts from across the country putting their heads together and identifying what the major issues are for the country and making those recommendations to him.”

Kansas State University distinguished professor of soil microbiology Charles Rice is serving in his sixth year on the task force. With many task force members from states like California, Texas or Arizona, Rice felt it was beneficial for this latest meeting to be held in Kansas.

“I think it’s important to bring in task force members to understand Kansas so they have better appreciation of our environmental and agricultural issues,” he said. “The agricultural issues they deal with in their states are different from ours.”

The task force members visited with Kansas producers about air quality issues and witnessed some of these issues first hand during their tour. After visiting the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s wind erosion lab and seeing the research of a Kansas State group on animal feedlot emissions, the  group toured feedlots to learn about efforts to protect the environment while still maintaining and running the operation. They also toured the Konza Prairie to see effects of different frequencies of burning and visited with two ranchers about the importance and logistics of prescribed burning in the Flint Hills.

Eric Banks, NRCS state conservationist for Kansas, was involved in arranging the tour. In an interview with Agriculture Today, he emphasized the positive responses he has already seen from Kansas producers in relation to the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan introduced this past year. Many of these producers, he said, are interested in changing their management practices for the betterment of Kansas. “Producers are interested in making a living for themselves, but also in addressing the environment,” he said. “All Kansas farmers and ranchers want is to be involved in discussions and be a part of decisions made.”

Banks said he expects the positive dialogue and responses to continue as the task force proceeds and as farmers and ranchers are involved in decision-making processes.

Source: Kansas State University