USDA funds target counties exceeding federal limits for ozone and particulate matter
California will receive $10.9 million or about a third of the money newly made available through the federal 2008 Farm Bill to help farmers and ranchers with conservation practices to improve air quality.
The funds will be administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the USDA agency charged with providing technical and financial conservation assistance to private landowners. Funds will be made available through the popular Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that has been operating in California since 1996 and last year provided $54 million in cost share assistance.
"California has led the nation in pioneering ways to partner with agricultural organizations and regulatory agencies to identify technical and organizational ways to protect the air,” says Ed Burton, State Conservationist of NRCS in California. "I intend to continue the $5 million in EQIP support of air quality efforts so that the overall funds available for this work should now near $16 million,” he said.
Burton noted that since 2004 NRCS in California has spent over $21 million on conservation practices to improve air quality. These include treating rural roads, upgrading farm engines to cleaner models, chipping orchard prunings in lieu of burning, and minimizing pesticide sprays. Since farmers match the federal funds, the total dedicated to air quality activities by the farming community through EQIP is approximately $42 million.
The $10.9 million will come through a new subpart of the EQIP program and will be expended through contracts with individual producers.
"While we don't know all the details on how the program will be administered, we do hope to augment our strong history of air quality work with new and innovative methods,” Burton said. "We are looking to partner with those who have workable ideas for achieving these goals. We all want the air to be clean enough so everyone can clearly see the full splendor of California's landscapes.”
Thirty-six counties are eligible to use the funds to help them come into compliance with standards for PM 2.5 (particulate matter particles smaller than 2.5 microns and associated with health concerns), PM 10.0 and 8-hour ozone levels.
Learn more about NRCS at http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov.
Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.