Farmer-Government Program Improves California Air Quality

02:00PM Oct 27, 2010
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Source: NRCS news release

Results tabulated from the first two years of a new voluntary air-quality program show farmers are making significant improvements in reducing nitrous oxide emissions, which are precursors of ozone.  
Ed Burton, State Conservationist for the California division of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), made the Oct. 25 announcement at the Souza Dairy Farm near Fresno, where he also committed $24 million to the program for 2011.
The program splits with farmers the cost of replacing the oldest and most polluting combustion engines on the farm, with new technology that runs 75% cleaner. Using this program California farmers have replaced engines on 814 old tractors and other farm equipment in the past two years and reduced nitrous oxide emissions by 1,349 tons.
"To put this in perspective, these emission reductions are roughly equivalent to removing 408,000 cars from California highways," said Burton. "Think about it. That many cars would stretch from Washington State to Mexico."
Farmers interested in participating in NRCS programs have from now until Nov. 13, 2010 to sign up at their local NRCS office to be considered for the first funding round of fiscal year 2011.
"California's farmers have responded enthusiastically to our efforts to improve air quality," added Burton.  "We look forward to seeing what they can achieve in 2011."
The new program, part of the 2008 Farm Bill, was first rolled out in 2009. The primary goal is to help farmers and ranchers achieve air-quality conditions set by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).  Producers in the 36 California counties that are currently not in compliance with one or more of these standards were eligible for the new program. The program can operate for two more years under current authorizations.
While the new program in California specifically targets nitrous oxide emissions from combustion engines, NRCS and farmers collaborate on air quality work on nine conservation practices to further air quality goals for PM10, PM 2.5, ozone, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).  These include practices such as the engine replacement program, conservation tillage, treating farm roads to reduce dust, using machinery that reduces VOCs in orchards and more.
In the past two years, NRCS has received more than 5,000 applications for the diesel emissions reduction program, funding 814 of these at a cost of $43.4 million. Additionally, NRCS has joined into 420 contracts for other types of air-quality conservation work, at a cost of $6.4 million. Farmers typically contribute 50 percent. In 2009 the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District provided $3 million to increase the cost share rate for some of the farmers in their district.
Burton credited the effective partnership that has supported the policy, technical and educational work necessary to achieve the air quality benefits.  "Conservation, farming and environmental groups all got behind the effort to help put California agriculture on the leading edge of conducting business in a cleaner, greener way that protects the air and complies with local and state regulations," concluded Burton.
The partnership includes the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Environmental Defense Fund, California Farm Bureau Federation, Nisei Farmers League, Western United Dairymen, California Cotton Growers and Ginners, Resource Conservation Districts, California Citrus Mutual, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, California Dairy Campaign, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, and the USDA's Farm Service Agency.
Several partners joined with NRCS in 2009 to host 15 workshops throughout the Central Valley to alert and educate producers about air quality and the opportunities available through the Farm Bill program.