The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners conserve our natural resources, and air resources are among those. In fact, of the 79 resource concerns that are of focus to the NRCS 12 of them are in air resources. These 12 can be broadly classified into six air quality and atmospheric change issues:
Particulate Matter (including coarse and fine particles, smoke, dust, and off-site effects from wind erosion)
Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Sequestration
Learn more about Arizona agriculture and Air Quality Here.
Joharra Dairy: What it takes to be a good neighbor
Joe Serrano discusses challenges Joharra Dairy faces with air quality, urban sprawl and feed prices and what they are doing to overcome them.
Joe explains all the components of the feed mixture Joharra Dairy uses to Johnny Gomez, Casa Grande NRCS Soil Conservationist.
It is delicious. Be it in a bowl of cereal, chilled in a tall glass, or in an ice cream cone, milk is a commodity loved by many. However, as we enjoy our three servings of dairy each day, Joe Serrano, part owner of Joharra Dairy in Casa Grande, Ariz., is working hard to maintain healthy and productive dairy cows.
The Joharra Dairy is located in the center of Casa Grande. What used to be wide-open-spaces around the dairy are now filled with housing developments. Casa Grande is growing quickly and urban sprawl is one of the toughest challenges facing the dairy.
Odors are often the foremost complaint made by anyone living near a dairy. Many view odor issues as a nuisance. New regulations have been implemented to reduce air quality pollutants in Maricopa and Pinal counties. To confront this challenge and meet these requirements, Joharra Dairy applied for and received financial assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Air Quality program within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This contract consists of coordinating manure removal processes and applying soil stabilizer on dirt roads to combat dust issues on their operation.
“It is important for us to know what it means to be a good neighbor,” said Joe Serrano. “We aren’t perfect, but we are constantly making it a priority.”
Joe and his partner, Daniel Nowlin, have lived in the Casa Grande area since the 1990’s. Daniel is a third generation farmer and had the idea of starting his own agriculture operation. He asked his long time friend, Joe to join him. Their farming operation progressed into a dairy business when they bought Joharra Dairy in 2005.
“I have had other business, but I love being a dairyman. I enjoy the people and the freedom that goes with being an entrepreneur,” said Joe.
Taking care of their cows is the most important part of their business. Being stewards and caring for their animals is critical because their business will only be as good as their cows are. The arid Arizona climate is great for dairies because of the lack of humidity that fosters bacteria. However, the heat’s intensity reaches amazing heights throughout the middle of the summer. Large shades with misters and fans are installed throughout the dairy. Underneath these shades it is easily 10-15 degrees cooler.
Joharra Dairy milks 1,500 cows per day. Once in the parlor, sanitization and milking takes five to seven minutes and then the cows are sanitized once again before they are released. Each cow is milked twice a day producing about 70 gallons of milk per day per cow.
As members of the United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA), their milk is processed and distributed within the co-op. The UDA’s modern manufacturing facility in Tempe operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and produces high, medium and low heat nonfat dry milk, cream, butter, skim milk, condensed skim milk and lactose powder. They provide product for a cheese manufacturer on-site. When Joharra Dairy’s milk grades at the highest level, it is sent to Abbot Laboratories in Casa Grande to make baby formula.
Joharra Dairy supports Arizona businesses as much as possible. They provide manure to local farmers because it is more economical for everyone. They also buy alfalfa from Cochise County where they feel they can depend on great quality feed.
“By supporting local businesses, they have in turn supported us, getting us through hard times,” Joe explained.
Challenges will continue to arise for Joharra Dairy and dairymen alike. Urban sprawl is a reality in Arizona and across the country that will not be going away. There is no escaping the fact that Arizona has major air quality problems and air quality regulations will continue to be a cost of doing business for agriculture. With the support of fellow agriculturalists and NRCS, Joharra Dairy has the tools to face these issues head on and succeed.
Excessive Dust is a Don’t for Dairyman
Owner/operators of Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) are familiar with following regulations. Now, not only are they concerned with groundwater and surface water protection, but they are also taking measures to protect Arizona’s air quality. Whether it is to combat PM10 or ozone precursors, there is an entire suite of managements and practices available to operators that can be utilized to reduce emissions that affect air quality.
These measures can be costly to implement and maintain so producers often turn to the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to assist them. Through the 2008 Farm Bill, producers can receive financial and technical assistance for air quality from the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Air Quality Initiative to implement structural and management conservation practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural land.
Robert Van Hofwegan is one of those producers that went to NRCS for assistance. Van Hofwegan’s family has been dairying in Maricopa County for three generations and they have seen many changes in the regulatory environment. “As we all know, things never stay the same. This goes with government regulations too. I know often I'm so busy just trying to run the business that things can change without you knowing,” said Van Hofwegan. “Your local NRCS office is very helpful in identifying areas you need to comply with and ways to get that done. They are also very helpful in finding financial assistance in accomplishing many of these compliance issues.”
In 2009, Van Hofwegan met with a conservation planner from NRCS to develop a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) and a Conservation Plan. As defined by NRCS, a CNMP is a grouping of conservation practices and management activities that, when implemented, will ensure that both production and natural resource protection goals are achieved on an Animal Feeding Operation. A Conservation Plan is a tool designed to help better manage natural resources and is where alternatives are included to address resource conditions on an operation. The goal of the CNMP is to aid Van Hofwegan in more efficiently utilizing the nutrients in the animal waste generated on the facility, and the conservation plan was developed to help mitigate the facility's air quality emissions of concern.
A main issue for the dairy was their dirt roads, especially the one that adjoins their facility and is utilized by local vehicles as a main thoroughfare. Of the alternatives presented, Van Hofwegan selected treatment of the dirt roads and utilization and transport of the dairy waste for his first contracts with NRCS. As a result of these plans, Van Hofwegan treated 29,569 feet of dirt roads with a Soil Stabilizer for Dust Control and NRCS assisted with cost share assistance. Treating roads with a soil stabilizer can reduce PM10 and PM2.5 emissions by at least 50%. Van Hofwegan is also approved to install 199,000 feet of High Pressure Pipeline to deliver liquid manure from the dairy holding lagoons to approximately 3,000 acres of cropland. Manure has valuable nutrients that crops can utilize for their development, and by using Waste Utilization the operation will reduce the emissions of ammonia, volatile organic compounds and oxides of nitrogen.
Agriculture producers seeking to reduce PM10 and volatile organic compounds can apply for help from NRCS. In 2010 NRCS had $1.8 million in Arizona for the EQIP - Air Quality Initiative, along with technical expertise available to farmers and ranchers to improve air quality. Approved applicants received payment for up to 75 percent of the project expense, and up to 90 percent if the applicant was from a historically underserved group. Seven counties, which were identified as nonattainment areas by the Environmental Protection Agency, were eligible in Arizona for Air Quality Initiative assistance. Farmers and ranchers in Cochise, Gila, Maricopa, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yuma counties were eligible. Seven NRCS offices in Arizona helped local agriculture producers with the air quality program: Avondale Field Office (623) 535- 5055, Casa Grande Field Office (520) 836-1960, Chandler Field Office (480) 988-1078, Douglas Field Office (520) 364-2001, San Carlos Field Office (928) 475-2692), Tucson Field Office (520) 292-2999, Willcox Field Office (520) 384-2229, and Yuma Field Office (928) 782-0860. AFO operators and all agricultural producers can get assistance to conserve Arizona’s natural resources, including air, through the regular EQIP signup which has approximately $10-15 million available each year. Applications for EQIP are accepted on a continuous basis, and NRCS encourages producers to apply for planning and financial help throughout the year.
The NRCS mission is to help people help the land, and participation in NRCS programs is voluntary. While working with the NRCS programs, Van Hofwegan has developed a good working relationship with his field office staff. “Applying for funding with NRCS can take some time in getting all the info together but once completed and approved, it is very smooth,” said Van Hofwegan. Van Hofwegan and his wife have three children and reside in Buckeye, Arizona.