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Voluntary Conservation Strives for Clean Air and Water for All

By: Michelle Banks, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources, including clean air and water. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

We use it every day, but yet water and air are rarely appreciated until there is a problem. However, farmers across the nation are working daily to voluntarily ensure that we have clean air to breathe and water to use.

Cleaner Air through Cleaner Burning

In Oregon’s Hood River region, air quality is improving through voluntary conservation work. Cindy Collins and other neighboring orchard growers use an air curtain burner—commonly referred to as a burn box—to safely and cleanly burn their orchard pruning wood.

The burn box produces almost no smoke and significantly reduces the amount of airborne particulates. In 2015 alone, Hood River fruit growers eliminated about 1.35 tons of particulate matter from entering the air by using burn boxes instead of open-pile burning.

“A fan recirculates the smoke, so the particulate matter burns, then re-burns,” said Carly Heron, NRCS district conservationist.

The burn box was purchased in 2014 with a Conservation Innovation Grant funded by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in partnership with the Columbia Gorge Fruit Growers and Hood River County.

Innovative Irrigation Saves Water

Conservation Innovation Grants help conservation districts and other organizations test innovative approaches and technologies.

Farmers in the Ogallala Aquifer region know each drop of water counts, and a group of forward-thinking farmers in Texas are finding innovative ways to irrigate their crops to use water more efficiently.

These farmers are working with the North Plains Groundwater Conservation District in the panhandle to study use of water from the aquifer. The Ogallala is the nation’s largest aquifer and is being depleted by water withdrawals at an unsustainable rate.

It’s interesting to know that the crops with less water, applied at three gallons per minute per acre had the deepest root systems. This shows that the crops roots were using water in the entire soil profile with no water waste. It’s important to know this at a time when water levels are continuing to decline,” said Mike Caldwell, NRCS resource team leader in Dumas, Texas.

For more conservation successes from producers nationwide, visit NRCS. For more on technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit