Research / Discovery

Researchers receive $1.15 million to study impacts of livestock on Colorado's air quality

January 18, 2010

In November 2009, researchers with Colorado State University's College of Agriculture were awarded $1.15 million to study nitrogen and ammonia emissions related to cattle feedlots in Colorado and the High Plains. This funding will support three projects, all of which are being lead by professors from CSU's Institute for Livestock and the Environment and the College of Agriculture.

Nitrogen from cattle feedlots along Colorado’s Front Range

Jay Ham, professor of soil and crop science, installs an air quality sensor at a feedlot along the Colorado Front Range.

Recently, the livestock industry on Colorado’s eastern slope has been implicated as a primary source of nitrogen emissions, a cause of ecosystem degradation in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help Jay Ham, a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Science at CSU, and his colleagues determine just how much nitrogen comes from feedlots.

Cattle diet, weather, manure

The study aims to measure ammonia and other pollutants from a Greeley-based cattle feedlot and evaluate the influence of factors that govern emissions levels, such as cattle diet, weather, and manure management, on regional patterns of nitrogen and ammonia deposition.

Using this data, the research team will develop a computer model that predicts nitrogen emissions from all feedlots along the Front Range of Northern Colorado and patterns of deposition in the Park, and use this to identify opportunities for reducing emissions during key seasons or at key sources.


This project is a multi-disciplinary, collaborative effort. In addition to Ham, Shawn Archibeque from the Department of Animal Science, and Thomas Borch, professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, will be contributing to this research. The project has received strong support from private feedlot operators in Greeley, who will serve as the primary study sites for the project, and from the National Park Service.

Ammonia emissions inventory

A large Northern Colorado feedlot features a view of the Rocky Mountains in the background.

In 2009, the EPA began requiring cattle feedlots greater than 1,000 animals to report ammonia emissions to state and local authorities; however, no verifiable methods have been developed to estimate those emissions on a site-specific basis.

Working with scientists at the University of Washington, another project being lead by Ham, recently funded through an EPA STAR grant, seeks to improve on-site monitoring and reporting of emissions through the development of new tools for measuring actual ammonia emissions on a seasonal, site-specific basis, and an on-line system producers can use to track emissions and predict the outcomes of different management scenarios.

Ham and his colleagues will work with feedlot operators in Colorado and Kansas to develop in-house tools for measuring emissions, and real-world models of how different factors, including livestock nutrition, waste management, climate, and soils, effect emissions. In addition, these same tools can be used to measure and estimate greenhouse gas emissions; something the livestock industry may be required to do under the EPA’s proposed Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule, currently under review.

Best management practices

In keeping with Colorado State University’s land grant mission of advancing knowledge and serving the needs of the state’s citizens, College of Agriculture professors Ham, Archibeque, and Davis are collaborating on a project to provide producers with best management practices for reducing ammonia emissions and also see if the adoption of BMP’s changes trends. An NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, recently awarded to the project team, will support this work.

Best Management Practices, or BMPs, are management and facility practices that can help a producer reduce their environmental impact, while maintaining or improving herd production. Factsheets explaining BMPs for feedlots, dairies, and fertilizer use will be developed by the project team. In addition, an NRCS Technical Manuel explaining how to assess ammonia emissions will be produced. Summer field days and winter workshops open to producers throughout the Great Plains will expand the scope of the project.

Working directly with producers, the project team will document implementation of BMPs in real-world settings. Follow-up monitoring and assessments will help determine how effective BMPs are at reducing ammonia emissions and if practices are cost-effective to producers.


Contact: Sarah Lupis
E-mail: sarahgl@mail.colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2326