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Focusing on Air Quality Issues Related to Livestock Production

A biosystems engineer with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has been appointed to not one, but two, important committees that advise the USDA and United Nations on issues related to agricultural production and air quality. Robert Burns, a distinguished professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, is serving on the USDA Agricultural Air Quality Task Force and has also been appointed to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Technical Advisory Group on Methane.

“Both appointments are highly prestigious and selective,” says Hongwei Xin, dean of UT AgResearch.

“Dr. Burns’ appointments are reflective of his national and global prominence in the areas of air quality and greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural operations.”

Created by the 1996 Farm Bill, the USDA Task Force on Agricultural Air Quality Research identifies cost-effective ways agriculture industry can improve air quality. Membership consists of leaders in farming, industry, health, and science who are appointed for two-year terms. The Task Force advises the Secretary of Agriculture on air quality and its relationship to agriculture based on sound scientific findings by reviewing research supported by federal agencies and by promoting intergovernmental (federal, state, local and tribal) coordination in establishing agricultural air quality policy to avoid duplication of efforts. The task force also helps ensure that air quality conservation practices supported by USDA are based on peer-reviewed research and are economically feasible for agricultural producers.

Burns is one of 26 new members appointed to the task force in 2021.

Burns is also serving as a technical expert on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Methane. The Methane TAG incudes 59 experts from 23 counties, and the group is tasked with illustrating how feed and livestock production interact with the environment through emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases as well as through carbon removal. Because it is a short-lived climate pollutant, reducing emissions of methane can lead to easy gains in climate change mitigation. Past TAG reviews have pointed to novel approaches to assess methane emissions and thereby improve carbon footprint assessments as well as developing strategies for low-carbon livestock production and food security.

“One of these appointments would have been impressive but achieving both is certainly great recognition of Dr. Burns’ knowledge, reputation and abilities,” says Tim Cross, UT senior vice president and senior vice chancellor for agriculture.

A Fellow in the American Society of Agriculture and Biological Engineering, Burns also serves as the Chair of the National Pork Producers Council Air Science Advisory Committee. Prior to being named as a Distinguished Professor, Burns served from 2010-2020 as Assistant Dean, Associate Dean and Dean for UT Extension. A registered professional engineer, Burns holds a B.S. in agricultural engineering, M.S. in environmental engineering, and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions.

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