When federal funding was pulled from the Columbia Basin PM10 erosion control research effort in Washington this year, 18 years of ongoing studies became endangered species.
While some programs have new funding to continue, many of the erosion control efforts formerly administered by the PM10 Project are endangered, bring a shocking bit of news to the agencies and farmers who worked with the research.
Noting that the impact of the loss of funding will be "tremendous," lead researcher Bill Schillinger says the ongoing research has been making important inroads to resolving the dust problems of the Columbia Basin. "The problem has not been solved, and we hoped to have more time," he says.
"While some special grants under the funding nationwide may have been due for elimination, it is too bad they didn't look at each program and make decisions," he says. "The cuts under the federal Agricultural Special Research Grants were all cut throughout the U.S. with no review of their relative value."
If individual programs were selected for continuation, Schillinger feels the research generated by the PM10 program would have been selected for continuation.
The Columbia Plateau program was launched in 1993 due to a concern for air quality in eastern Washington. In 1990, stringent federal air quality standards were placed on airborne particulate matter (PM) less than 10 microns in size.
"Soils in the low precipitation (less than 12 inches annually) region of the Columbia Plateau have relatively high quantities of PM10 sized particles," says Schillinger, who is superintendent of the Lind Dryland Research Station operated by Washington State University near Ritzville, Wash.
Many growers refer to the high wind region as the "blowlands," a reputation well earned when sun-blocking dust storms can close nearby highways as the air lifts soils from fields and sends the debris worldwide on wind currents.
Intensive tillage, weak aggregation of the soil, and limited vegetative cover on the land led to the development of the PM10 project which focuses on what farmers can do to keep their soil from eroding.
The program has "made significant advances toward the goal of defining our soil resource and reducing soil loss and fugitive dust emissions caused by wind erosion," says Schillinger.
Last year alone, 10 research projects were funded under the PM10 program, covering many scientific probes, outreach efforts to bring new solutions to the farm, and implementation of the study findings by area farmers.
The project has "benefited from excellent cooperation and support by many organizations and individuals," notes Schillinger.
Improved cropping systems have been a major focus of the project throughout the years, he says. "The key for controlling wind erosion and dust pollution in downwind areas is to maintain year round vegetative cover and surface roughness," he says. Since its inception, the PM10 Project "has focused on prediction and measurement of dust sources, development of viable farming practices to reduce wind erosion, and promotion of best management practices.'
For more on this story, see the August edition of Western Farmer-Stockman