A Year of Ash: Mount St. Helen's Impact on Agriculture
For May 18 1980 I bade the people of Eastern Washington want to forget mom thing howlings literally blew her top and Zentai and polarized stone over central and eastern Washington and northern Idaho. She left a trail of mechanic gas up to six inches deep in some places people were immobilized afraid and in many cases stranded. The eruption was called a disaster the loss of human life was small but the dollar loss to industry and agriculture was addicted to be great. How badly if at all did the eye hurt agriculture in Eastern Washington. What is the impact on agriculture. One year later and the next half hour we will look at who agriculturist. And for scientists to view these reactions and predictions of the impact on I got one. Washington received about four inches of ash cloud court right. I feed lot owner there recalls the
reaction of his cattle to the ash. There comes any differences re action of the cattle in the fatal crash after an earldom there. With the trucks and equipment and people running around and I guess nothing surprising. Cars or cattle on grass is concerned the outside cattle on the range land. Their family thought it was winter. They got it up. Life is going to come home going into larger bunches and fed together and which was good because it as they fed larger bunches like sheep. They seem to knock the ash off the grass and. It helps and then remove them as far as ahead of them. Crazier running around or BOLLINGER. Didn't seem to bother him and that because you know. Or are concerned of course with the dust problems and the cattle in a feedlot it we've got a work force feeding and we're trying to maximize in the gains and when you do that cattle are under stress condition.
You know. Start with a dust problem. We clean the roads and run water trucks and try to keep the environment as good as possible for the health of the cattle. We either did a good job doing it because we didn't see any any problems or the health of the cattle or it wasn't a factor I don't know but we felt it was so. We spent considerable time and money to make sure the roads are clean even the water trucks running. People think what down. Rob Preston chairman of the Washington State University Animal Science Department was concerned about the reaction of livestock to the act two in particular one was the mineral composition of the egg and whether there was any toxic elements in there say it would be really toxic to livestock whether they were too ingested in the water or in the feed. The other one was
just the availability of feed on range especially in heavy ashfall areas because once it rains grass had been literally covered with the ash and then we were concerned you know whether animals would find enough to eat. The latter was somewhat true in that there were some problems especially on one sheep ranchers place where because the range was fairly well grazed down at that point in time the animals did not have enough grass to eat and they began to need some hemlock as important as plants and they actually lost some sheep from the. Poison from these poisonous plants. The mineral composition of the egg as it turns out is such that there were no problems whatsoever with toxic minerals. Even if an animal were a consumer rising it had 10 percent volcanic ash in it. Levels of fluorine and manganese syncing the other minerals it could be talks were long enough that there was no problem with the ash present.
Any contamination problems concerning feet. Not really after the first day or day it was with the haze. Hey supplies recovery process in that if you're at the ground you're going to create some excess heat where only grinding equipment. After we the outside feed after we clean it off the first time you got it bad. Then. Rather than cleaning the bunks that day and getting everything cleaned up where the cattle eat filling the water troughs Altro. No money really on this lot work. We keep it 20 to 25 days supply of grain which is our main feed here and not knowing. And a lot of our barley at that time was going out of Montana so even when no one we could get more grain in your eye contact us link warehouses here. But not surprise I could from them by the time we got down them supply
why the grain is really normal channels when. First getting was cut then we were starting getting ready to go into the new hay crop in the first cutting around here and. Quite a bit ash in it so we had to go out of the area south of here and south of the fellow and ask were you for. A supply of it as far as the feedlots concerned we don't use it much and was silent as we get along without it we have few requirements here of a thousand cattle and me. Probably five or six times a day and which is no real problem worker bees are all that and you're all I think the first. Two weeks to 30 days it was was the worst part of it. I imagine after the first week we learn to live with it. The second week we realized that it wasn't going to be any
horrible disaster movie is when we are working to get it out of him and then after 30 days I guess it didn't seem to be that much more of a swing more with Learn to live with you know part of this operations or move time back on the equipment. The main thing. Is I guess meet the challenge. Doing well there. Well we did do experiments on several different animals. We did their research with like petting dairy cows where we fed up to six seven pounds of ash per cow per day with no effect either on the animal's health or on her productivity. We fed some dairy calves ration with 10 percent. And again no no effect no accumulation of minerals in the liver and other places. We fed sheep on a feeding trial and again no effect. And probably the most sensitive test was one with baby
chicks where we fed up to 30 percent of the diet in the form of volcanic ash no effect on mortality have very little effect on growth rate and they're probably the most sensitive animal that we've used in these tests. Picture was taken by a cattleman over on the west side near Long View. The cattle as you can see in this picture are completely unconcerned about the volcano and the terrific release of the nation energy from that volcano. And this really isn't just about the story as far as its effect on livestock and. Immediate or long term. And that is really a lack of concern. On the part of livestock as far as its effect on them. What was your first concern after Animal Health. Well the feed supply is the major question. If this happens again and people are short on feeding they're expecting and
wants to drive their feed material from range it's covered with ash they're obviously going to have to get something to feed it. There are no other to prevent them from either starving or resorting to poisonous plants as a source of feed material. So supplemental feed supply is a major thing. Some dairy men who run on a fairly short supply feed live find themselves having trouble getting feed on short notice and so the more inventory a feed did they get have on hand really the better. Other than that making sure the water is fresh and possible when and when something like this happens getting their water supplies cleaned out right away that would be a major thing also. If the cattle could eat the ash why didn't they preference in preference expressed not only on the part of the animal but also on herds because most are like dusty dirty
feed. That's really about all this amounts to is just decoding. The WSU agricultural engineer Gary hides initial reactions to the Ashes effect on the equipment was uncertain. We didn't know initially if this was going to be corrosive or not I think as the information developed it. Turned out to be mildly acid first and then went more basic. And we weren't so concerned about corrosion initially as we were about a lot of other things so we didn't worry about that at the time. The material is very abrasive and that's what we're most concerned about. It turns out that just from personal observation it looks like a lot of things have rusted from the ash that weren't resting before not as resting so there was some encouragement of corrosion due to the salt effect of the ash rather than it being either acid or alkaline. So there was some corrosion but the abrasive problems are probably more severe I would guess
than the corrosion problem. There are things that can be done to lessen the wear on equipment. To minimize the effects on equipment. Basically common sense maintenance is what we recommend. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for service under dusty conditions. As far as farm equipment is concerned it's designed for dusty conditions. Generally all of it is tractors have heavy duty air cleaners that do a lot of pretty clean and they eliminate a lot of the dust before the air even gets to the dry type filter that's on on modern tractors. Then the dry type filter itself takes out. Ninety nine point nine percent of particles 20 microns in diameter and bigger and it takes out a very high percentage of smaller particles as well down well below 10 microns. The dirtier the dry type filter gets the better job of filtering it does because the particles act as part of the filtering element
after they get in there. The only reason to. Bother with changing or cleaning the filter at all is as the particles build up the restriction airflow also builds up and you have to clean it or change it. When the air restriction gets so high that it causes reduced engine performance. As far as other parts of the machinery are concerned bearings and that sort of thing. Lubricating at more frequent intervals to force the ash out of seals and out of bearings. So that we were to reduce the. The grinding action of the ash between the seal and the shaft for instance will help reduce the problem so. More frequent maintenance probably twice as often as normal as far as lubrication and that sort of thing. The fine particles that do get into the engine through the air filter will float in the film of oil in the engine. The oil film in heavy duty engines is somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 micron
25 microns thick so particles smaller than 25 microns will just float in the oil film and not cause appreciable wear as long as they don't build up in high concentrations and to stop the high concentration as you change the oil in the oil filter more frequently crops in the heavy ash fallout area were coated and flattened by it. The potential danger to the young wheat was great. Rich Bill read Farmer Jerry Snyder said the harvest was longer and slower because of a I really wouldn't it could really be nasty. But the worst situation was when it was extremely still as it can get on some hot summer days. Just be very calm the ash didn't go anywhere and it becomes kind of a static electricity and everything's fresh so new generators alternators around your fans different poison belts and things of this nature. The ash will build up and build up and build up and.
There's a visibility wise it would just hang around the car. And if I could if you could envision a picture of a car by OK travelling across a field. All right. All you see now is this Karma it's a cloud of dust right there this great white house with a thing but a spark sticking out of it moving across the field and it would turn only it would move back if I could relate one little story we have a have a Baptist minister was working for us and that afternoon but a very still afternoon and he was part of what you call a strawberry. It would collect all a straw at the back of a combine and dough but we were using it basically for feed for cattle. And at the end of the day which made it very dirty for him much much deeper than it would for a normal car of mine just he was collecting all the stress. Being a Baptist minister who's quite quiet and quite reserved. When he
climbed out of the car by a day. That he took off his cap took out his goggles to guide his desk mastic each cab threw it on the ground stomped out. He said anything to make a preacher swear today was the day. Part of the people concerned I read off the curve. Then you're a long time. You know. They were. Working there. Whatever we need to get done to keep cattle alive and keep bad. First for five days and you know they're all. Just getting work done by somebody every day but after four or five days before they. Start to wear on their nerves you finally realize this thing was here with us for a long time and at that point. You know we're going to go again and really bury it. And I know you want to read your history about pay and. Sirius and things like that what kind of worries you. And.
For my people concerned. Now. Tired. We should go away then. Or myself from the USA summed up by one more clip after about the second or third barrier to move again already. Never knew again why wouldn't the media care no more about it. But if I was to give a dollar and cents amount I would say normal years expenditures per carbine would be a thousand dollars. Somewhere between 500 and a thousand dollars and in repairs which is normally replacing chains and things of this nature all of our chains this year had to be replaced several sprockets bottoms in our headers flighting of theirs. So what are some expenses from five hundred to a thousand one to two to $3000 for buying.
This will be something that will see later on today I mean maybe our generators have been heard. We did something Illinois didn't do we put to air cleaner systems on our minds. Some people put on an aspirator which is a different style of air cleaning system. Some use a individual type cleaning called Turbo to the best way I can describe it and have been using a name. That's as far as actually really knowing anymore that there's a lot of things on down the line that I don't know I don't know will really be able to solve it until a couple more years have gone by. What kind of yield Did you have. Oh definitely above average in the story. But you've got to remember there are two things you can attribute it all to the ash. You could say yes that had something to do with it.
We had quite a bit of rainfall which is much more normal and it came at an ideal time. May and June for us here in the Adams County area is just an excellent time for dry land. We do see moisture and the ash when it fell. Likely so we had some rain prior to that and it sealed the gravel and kept that moisture in there rather than dissipate. Hell that moisture then when it rained again. We have some problems with runoff from the rain but some of it didn't penetrate did settle in the action so in and it was just just an ideal situation. Our crops. Most of the crops I would say were third above normal. One of the recurring questions was if the ice had any positive or negative effects on crops WSU soil scientist out how diverse and looked at the ASH as a sort of I analyzed the ash as
though it was a soil. In other words I used the same methods for analyzing it that I do for soil and it comes out basically like a soil on low to medium fertility. In a sense even poorer than land because it has no organic matter no Hillis. So in effect it has no energy and it has all of the other nutrients in about the same proportion than a typical sauna. The detrimental effect was mainly that which occurred at the very beginning when it smothered some plans and when it remained on the surface as a layer and did restrict water intake to some extent in terms of its chemical effect it basically had little chemical effect. Again there were some soluble salts in there but they have been dissipated now so the long term effect is essentially neutral. It was basically polarized Iraq which means we've just got more soil material. So
it really has very little effect. It will eventually become part of our regular soil. The length of time that you'll be able to see the ashes such depends somewhat on the degree of mixing. If you go on in the Rains land or the soil is basically undisturbed. You can still very clearly see a layer a layer of ash on the surface. This will eventually be worked into the soil by soil organisms and by freezing and thawing cracking and so on sloughing from the cracks down into the ground. But I suspect we'll see evidence of this and Roan here or even around here when we have a lot of killings we'll be able to see it during three four years in the range land country we'll see for many years. Democratic way and I'm not too much concerned about it as far as
you know because being incorporated the good farmers which is about 90 to 95 percent of all farmers. They are have it incorporated back into the soil and there's there's not too much of a problem other than your normal dust. It's there you notice it especially around the ridge for you here you have to get out and clean off your tractor camps and things and windows much more often and clean out your air filters much more often. We're still changing oil on a very very regular basis every 100 hours instead of waiting as some farmers do for their air cleaner system to report to them with the lights that is to say the lights on their dash on their tractor or some by some other mechanism to set their filter needs to be changed. We always change it whenever we change oil which is approximately 100 hours of
operation every 100 hours. Greasing a little bit more than you would normally and just taking care to make sure your maintenance is really tip top. As it is there is excessive wherry geologists monitor and watch the mountain daily. It is one of the few if not the only well documented volcanic mountains geology professor Ron Sorum explains why the ash that fell in Pullman was different then the ash that fell in the Icom are closer to the mountain. So because the volcano erupts violently and in some cases fresh lava or magma is rejected from the volcano and when that cools it forms a certain type of material. But at the same time the lava rips or rocks from the volcanoes throat and also tears up some rocks from the old crater. And this is broken up extremely finally and
that is not an out of uniform composition. So some of the material comes out as one composition. Some of it is a different composition. And then the when this material is blown by the wind the wind has a sorting effect. It separates material of different sizes different weights specific gravity and so you get different kinds of concentrations different places. One of the striking things about the modern ash the ash that was erupted on the 18th was that it was just a very angular particles and. Some of them some of the particles were glass and you can see if you look at these that there are round depressions which are actually broken bubbles. This is the lab in which gas collected and when the level hardened these bubbles were left you can see that that produces what we call pumice but you can also see some angular particles here sort of blocky particles and they represent not glass but crystalline material. One of the things we
like to point out at different meetings that were held the last half of last year to local people was that we've had a lot of dust in the air in Poland over the years that is quite similar to this. And I've got some pictures of that here. If you were to look at this you would see that some of the particles are much like those that are found in the recent ash except they show rounding generally and these happen to be from a protected place in my garage. And there are some insect legs and so forth there and also some pollen from trees. But if you look only at the mineral particles you see that they are very much like those that were erupted from Mount St. Helens where the contribution also from the Columbia Basin how abrasive is the ash. There have been problems we haven't done any formal research or surveys on this all I have really is is word of mouth from from friends and acquaintances on this. Things like sickle bars on Columbines have worn more rapidly because they're what you might call ground engaging in in this situation they're working right in the ash
in areas where they had ash fall on the wheat crop just before harvest. In particular. The ash was then in the crop and would follow on the Circle Bar during harvest and sickles wore out probably two or three times faster than they normally would just because of all those abrasive particles working in there. Hey handling equipment wore out faster I'm sure there were problems with it. Anything where the ash was in the crop or was engaged by the machine in that way. Will there be another eruption. I'm not a student of Peano's but probably as good as any there are they're around from everything I've read but the top third of that mountain blew off and I mean I can't see another anonymous life we saw there doing that because everything that fell on us is gone. My opinion would be that the probability is that it will be very similar
because the OK nose in the Cascades are made of similar types of rock and therefore the magma below is similar. It's what we take we call and decide. And regardless of the source I think we're likely to get the same general type of material next time. Many of our. Earlier eruptions from our volcanic mountains in the West have contributed soil or an ash to our soils here so or in some cases our salt may be 50 percent ash to begin with. So in a sense this law canning cash deposit was just more of the same. I think it's certainly possible the U.S. Geological Survey and the state have. And of course the people at University of Washington have studied the cascade volcanoes in Washington in great detail and I've shown pictures I took at the top of Mt. Rainier which show the steam coming out and you can see it's hot. There's no question the number of Okinawa's are what we call dormant volcanoes.
And when they are up it's just a matter of time. But the one of the main interests of the government agencies now is to try to learn how to predict when a bigger option will take place so that we won't have as much danger to life as we had last rupture. And not right here fortunately. I think you know considered the one most likely to go next. So there's a lot of concern about that. Over on the west side there is no ending to this story as long as the Cascade Mountains from Washington to northern California are dormant but not dead. The chance for another eruption is there a potential danger to life land and livestock is real but not feared anymore. The impact of the ash on our mechanized agricultural society is the increased number of repairs required. This number is expected to decline as the sharp abrasive particles get rounded edges. The extra dollars spent on equipment repair is a small price to pay for a disaster.
- Producing Organization
- Northwest Public Television
- Contributing Organization
- Northwest Public Broadcasting (Pullman, Washington)
- AAPB ID
- This documentary program, that aired a year after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State, investigates the impact of volcanic ash on the agricultural sector through interviews with local farmers and scientists. Topics include effects on livestock, corrosiveness of equipment, economic productivity and output, and crop health. Regional differences in volcanic ash as soil are also accounted for.
- (c) 1981 Washington State University
- Media type
- Moving Image
Executive Producer: Ueckert, Guy
Interviewee: Courtright, Cal
Interviewee: Preston, Rod
Interviewee: Hyde, Gary
Interviewee: Snyder, Jerry
Interviewee: Halvorson, Al
Interviewee: Sorem, Ron
Narrator: Fielding, Ken
Producer: Hansel, Alison
Producing Organization: Northwest Public Television
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
KWSU/KTNW (Northwest Public Television)
Identifier: 2504 (Northwest Public Television)
Format: Digital Betacam
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- Chicago: “A Year of Ash: Mount St. Helen's Impact on Agriculture,” 2005-06-03, Northwest Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 21, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-296-09j3tzq8.
- MLA: “A Year of Ash: Mount St. Helen's Impact on Agriculture.” 2005-06-03. Northwest Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 21, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-296-09j3tzq8>.
- APA: A Year of Ash: Mount St. Helen's Impact on Agriculture. Boston, MA: Northwest Public Broadcasting, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-296-09j3tzq8