A federal appeals court this spring upheld the EPA’s declaration that efforts to reduce particulate matter pollution in the San Joaquin Valley have paid off in bringing the air basin in compliance with federal standards for PM10s.

A second ruling two weeks later upheld the SJV Air Pollution Control District’s use of Conservation Management Plans (CMP) as a tactic for helping production agriculture bring the area into Clean Air Act compliance. The court essentially determined that the menu-based approach was appropriate because it provided the flexibility necessary to deal with the many farms and crops grown in the San Joaquin Valley.

Both suits, brought by environmental interests, sought to secure further regulation of PM10s in the Valley. By siding with EPA, the court has given agriculture and other regulated industries in the San Joaquin Valley a rare vindication in their efforts to reduce environmental impacts of their operations on air quality.

The District singled out production agriculture for its support and investment in long-term efforts to reduce the harmful impact of particulate pollution in the SJV air basin.

The Air District adopted the CMP rule in 2004. The rule required farmers to select five conservation measures for each crop from a list of about 100 practices in five different areas: land preparation, harvest, unpaved roads, unpaved traffic areas, and a catch-all category.

The EPA’s declaration in 2006 that the San Joaquin Valley was no longer in exceedance of Clean Air Act PM10 standards indicates that mitigation practices, such as oiling or watering roads and converting to higher-tier diesel or electric irrigation pump engines, in addition to finding alternatives to burning, have helped bring the region into compliance.

The almond industry has made significant strides in reducing the dust and internal combustion emissions that contribute to PM10 and other air quality issues in the Valley. For years, the Almond Board has supported studies to figure out how to reduce dust emissions at harvest. This research has yielded tangible solutions for growers that don’t rely on significant capital investment. Among those tactics:

• Make sure sweeper heads are set at the proper height;

• Consider a reduction in the number of sweeper passes;

• Adjust travel and fan speed;

• Be sure ground is appropriately prepared for harvest to minimize the amount of work needed to sweep and harvest nuts.

In addition, equipment manufacturers every year offer newer generation sweepers and harvesters that significantly reduce dust and other air quality emissions and reduce the number of passes by combining operations in the three-step harvesting process.

The Almond Board will continue to study how almond production and harvest contribute to air quality emissions and where improvements can be made to reduce the environmental impacts of producing almonds in California.

It is important that agriculture remain vigilant in its efforts to reduce PM10s, particularly under this year’s dry drought conditions. The Valley is particularly vulnerable this year to PM10s, as many annual fields have been left fallow and permanent crop growers may be waiting to replant until the water situation improves. It doesn’t take much for dust to kick up on open ground that has been prepped but left unplanted.

Growers, therefore, should take extra precautions to mind their dust generation wherever possible. Too many PM10 exceedances could be a step backward in our compliance and lead to further regulation of PM10s in the SJV air basin in the future. In addition, while the eight-county air basin is in compliance for PM10s, several other air quality challenges remain, including ozone (formed by VOCs and NOx) and small particulate matter, or PM2.5. The Almond Board will continue to support research on the contribution of almond farming to these emissions and industry efforts to reduce emissions where issues exist.