CBF taps N.C. State to study poultry farm emissions
(Sept. 26, 2017) The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has hired North Carolina State University to study air quality on the Eastern Shore to better determine how ammonia emissions from poultry farms affect the Bay’s health.
More than 20 small monitoring devices were placed on private properties this month, mostly along coastal Maryland, to measure ammonia levels in the air, said Alison Prost, the foundation’s executive director.
The foundation hopes to learn whether robust poultry house construction and an increase in the number of chickens on the Shore have boosted ammonia emissions and nitrogen levels in the Bay, Prost said.
The devices had been collecting data for about two weeks as of last weekend and will monitor for another two weeks, she said.
The results will be used in conjunction with modeling developed at the university to more reliably determine how much ammonia poultry operations release into the air and surrounding waters, she said.
Scientists believe that ammonia accounts for about one-third of all airborne nitrogen that settles in the Bay, boosting nutrients that create algal blooms and strain marine life.
“Air is one of the large sectors in the watershed that we have concerns about both from industrial sources and (agricultural sources),” Prost said. “These monitors are kind of truth-checking the model.”
Foundation officials said the research is not focused on any particular farm.
“We are not looking to go after a farmer,” Prost said. “We are not looking to go after farms.”
Dr. Viney Aneja, a professor in N.C. State’s Department of Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and an expert in ambient air modeling of ammonia, is overseeing the research with a team of students.
Aneja leads the university’s Air Quality Research Group, an agricultural air quality and climate research program.
His work has focused on emissions from several agricultural sectors. In 2015, he pushed for tougher regulation of growing North Carolina hog farms exempted from new environmental standards. He could not be reached for comment.
Ammonia is a simple molecule, but its chemistry in the air and its interaction with the ground and water is complex, said Wayne Robarge, a professor of soil physical chemistry at the university who said he is assisting with the research.
“There is no doubt that agricultural systems can be strong sources of ammonia emissions, however, predicting fate and transport on a regional basis is challenging, even with the current state of development of regional atmospheric models,” he wrote in an email to The Delmarva Farmer.
News of the research reached the Maryland agricultural industry in late August after the foundation notified several organizations, including the state agriculture department, the Farm Bureau and the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., about its work.
Before Aneja was identified as the researcher, several industry insiders said they were surprised the foundation reached outside the region’s pool of poultry science experts to perform the study.
“There are some good researchers (here) that do look at this, and that’s why I’m a little bit confused,” said Jonathan Moyle, a University of Maryland Extension poultry specialist and associate professor. “It could be some good information. It depends if it’s done right. But, again, we have people in Delaware and Maryland who can do that. I don’t understand why they’re going far.”
But N.C. State has done similar work elsewhere, and the foundation didn’t find anyone in the Delmarva region with comparable experience, Prost said.
Regional farming organizations said they were aware of the study but not its details.
“We’re hopeful we will learn more about what they’re doing,” said James Fisher, spokesman for the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.
The foundation has not determined whether it will release the research to the public, said Tom Zolper, a foundation spokesman.
“This is information gathering to help us calibrate a model,” he wrote in an email to The Delmarva Farmer. “Once the calibration is complete we will determine the best way to convey the results and have follow-up conversations with various partners and interested stakeholders.”
The research is important to the foundation as the region approaches 2025, the final year of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, a federal strategy for restoring the Bay watershed’s health, Prost said.
President Obama drafted the program through an executive order in 2010. The blueprint created new pollution limits across the watershed, including nutrient standards for farmers.
The final goal: removing the Bay from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “dirty waters” list by 2025.
“We’re asking this for all difference sources (of pollution),” Prost said. “All different areas through the watershed. Are we on track? Is there anything that needs to be on the radar that’s not now?”