COLLEGE STATION — Current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates for feedyard dust are too high, and that could cost the Texas feedyard industry thousands of dollars in pollution fees that it doesn’t deserve, according to a preliminary study recently conducted at Texas A&M University.
Annual dust emissions from feedyards studied by Texas A&M scientists accounted for less than 4 percent of the pollution estimates, called factors, established for feedyards by the EPA 24 years ago. The purpose of the A&M study was to develop an updated method of estimating emission factors from agricultural operations, according to Dr. Bruce Lesikar, agricultural engineer with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
“We’re working toward having a reliable number for the emission factor,” he said. “We hope to work with EPA in changing those standards.” An accurate emission factor is important because of the implementation of the Federal Clean Air Act Amendment of 1990, which establishes a federal permit program for operations considered to be major pollution sources.
A major source is a facility which emits at least 100 tons of dust per year. The EPA uses the fees generated by the factors to fund regulation and inspection of facilities that generate air pollution. Feedyards in other states are assessed fees for air pollution, Lesikar said, and Texas could be subject to the regulations within about a year.
The EPA pollution factors calculate that feedyards emit 560 pounds of dust per 2,000 head per day, or about 102 tons per year. In the Texas study, however, researchers found that, on the average, feedyards emit only 20 pounds of dust per 2,000 head per day, or about 3.7 tons per year.
Presently, all major sources of air contaminants in Texas, except feedyards, are required to have a permit and pay an annual fee of $25 per ton of emissions. That fee is used to support air quality regulations and inspections of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.
A 2,000-head feedyard would have to pay $2,555 or about $1.28 per head in additional fees. Using the factor from the Texas study, that same feedyard would pay $91 or 5 cents per head.
“Remember, someone pays for that extra cost, and that ultimately could be the consumer,” Lesikar said.
The current EPA emission factor is based on 24-year-old data from California. However, some researchers and feedyard owners think the data is flawed in several ways, he said.
In the 1970s, the California Cattle Feeders Association initiated the study to develop guidelines and regulations for dust control in that state’s feedyard industry. However, Lesikar said, the California sampling process took place during that state’s dry season, with no data reported for the rest of the year. Also not reported were atmospheric conditions, such as wind speed, and whether management practices to reduce dust were used.
The Texas study analyzed three feedyards in the northern part of the state.
“That makes our data more accurate for Texas than using data from another state,” Lesikar said. Additionally, sampling took place four times during the year, under different seasonal conditions, and researchers collected more data about site conditions.
Some of the larger Texas feedyards already have implemented techniques to limit road dust, sometimes a major source of emissions from a feedyard, with water trucks, Lesikar said. They also are experimenting with different surface materials in the pens to reduce the amount of dust that escapes into the air, and with sprinkler systems in the pens to maintain sufficient moisture to prevent dust emissions.
Until World War II, most cattle were grass-fed. With more people moving off the farm and into the city and the increasing demand for beef, cattle were placed in feedyards to be fed grain. The first feedyards were in California; cattle feeding moved eastward into Texas in the 1950s. In 1994, 23 million head were marketed from U.S. feedyards; about 5.6 million head were from feedyards in Texas, according to figures from the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service.