By TIM ALEXANDER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Farmers in 39 Illinois counties are eligible for special technical and financial assistance when enrolling in USDA’s Air Quality Initiative for 2013, according to Ivan Dozier, state conservationist for the state Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
“NRCS has a special initiative that allows farmers to reduce contributions to particulate matter and the formation of ozone. This effort can really have an impact on improving air quality throughout the region,” Dozier said.
“There are many popular conservation programs used in Illinois that will directly or indirectly benefit air quality concerns. This includes management changes or simple options like establishing cover crops, planting windbreaks or using nutrient management.”
The program was established under the 2008 farm bill to offer federal assistance to producers to address air quality and concerns and help meet federal, state and local regulatory requirements of the 1990 Clean Air Act.
Producers eligible for assistance must own land in agricultural or forest production or be engaged in livestock, agricultural or forest production located on eligible land and have an existing “air quality natural resource concern,” according to Illinois NRCS. Cropland, rangeland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland and other farm and ranch lands are eligible.
According to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Report for 2011, released on Nov. 30, 2012, air quality was good or moderate more than 92 percent of the time throughout the state, consistent with the 91 percent recorded in 2010. Illinois recorded no “unhealthy” or Category Red days in 2011, though air quality was considered unhealthy for sensitive groups (Category Orange) in parts of the state during 31 days.
Ten-year trends continue to show overall decreases for all pollutants in Illinois, including particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead, according to Illinois EPA Interim Director John Kim.
“We are proud of the achievements Illinois has made in terms of air quality,” he said in November. “While air quality standards continue to become more stringent, the Illinois EPA remains committed to meeting all current and future standards and is dedicated to continually improving air quality.”
The 39 counties designated with a high priority need to address requirements of the Clean Air Act are: Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Jersey, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, Madison, McHenry, Monroe, Randolph, St. Clair and Will (primary counties), along with Boone, Bond, Bureau, Calhoun, Clinton, DeKalb, Greene, Jackson, Henry, Kankakee, Livingston, Macon, Macoupin, Marshall, Mercer, Moultrie, Montgomery, Perry, Piatt, Putnam, Rock Island, Washington, Whiteside and Woodford (secondary counties).
The program is administered as part of USDA-NRCS EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program). Upcoming enrollment evaluation dates for EQIP Air Quality Initiative assistance are Jan. 18, March 15 and May 17 for all counties. Applications may be acquired at your local County USDA Service Center.
For a complete list of eligible air quality improvement practices or a summary of specific air quality concerns for Illinois, visit www.il.nrcs.usda.gov/ programs/AIR/index.html
In addition, NRCS offers an online National Air Quality Site Assessment Tool (NAQSAT) for voluntary use by livestock producers to determine areas of their operations where changes could be made to promote reduced air emissions.