Yuma Ag and You: Wind, Ag and Yuma County Air Quality

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott      March 1, 2015

The saying goes, ‘March comes in like a lion, and out like a lamb’! In Yuma it often seems that the wind comes in February and continues at least through County Fair week. Breezes this week, winds don’t start until the breeze exceeds 35 miles per hour, remind us of dust and air quality concerns that are often wrongly blamed on the local agricultural industry.

There is no escaping the fact that air quality is a concern in Yuma County. There is also no escape from air quality regulatory schemes, as they will continue to be a cost of doing business for agriculture. On many occasions over the past 30 years, agriculture has stood up and offered their active participation in the development of air quality regulations. Industry groups continue to be vigilant to changes in state and national legislation concerning air quality.

Best Management Practices (BMP) authority now exists. It is a tool that agriculture takes seriously, allowing growers to conduct their normal operations, while reducing particulate matter emissions. PM10 is particulate matter that is ten micrometers or less in diameter (as compared to a human hair that is about 70 micrometers). These are very small particles than can invade the natural defense mechanism of the human respiratory tract, penetrating deep into the lungs where it can lodge. The elderly, children and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions are most vulnerable.

The regulatory agencies involved in enforcement of air quality are the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Air quality problems occur when the amount of PM10 particles released into the air increase in concentrations. Large concentrations of PM10 could potentially violate one of the federal air quality standards.

Agriculture is playing a role in helping to meet the federal clean air standards by implementing Agricultural Best Management Practices. Categories for agriculture include cropland, tillage and harvest, non-cropland, unpaved access connections and equipment areas. Examples of the management practices used for dust control are limited activity during high-wind events; combining tractor operations; improving soil health and aggregates; track-out control system; and surface roughening. A track-out control system may include a grizzly, similar to a cattle guard, which is used to dislodge mud or debris from the tires of equipment and vehicles entering or leaving a farm. Use of gravel pads that are one inch or larger coarse gravel in equipment areas also reduce the track-out on tires.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), part of the US Department of Agriculture has helped the people of Arizona conserve valuable natural resources. The local Natural Resource Conservation Districts, legal subdivisions of state government are charged with identifying the resource problems in their communities and advising NRCS on the type of technical assistance needed to address and solve the problems. Conservation districts are made up of a locally elected five member Board of Supervisors and provide a valuable service to the community. More information on Conservation Districts and the NRCS can be obtained at the NRCS Yuma Field Office, 928-782-0860.