Results tabulated from the first two years of a new voluntary air quality program show California farmers are making significant improvements in reducing nitrous oxide emissions, the precursors of ozone.

Ed Burton, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state conservationist for California, made the announcement at the Souza Dairy Farm near Fresno where he also committed $24 million to the program for 2011.

The program splits the cost with farmers of replacing the oldest and most polluting combustion engines on the farm with new technology that runs 75 percent cleaner.

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 under this program.

"To put this in perspective, these emission reductions are roughly equivalent to removing 408,000 cars from California highways," Burton said. "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. 12, 2010 to sign up at the local NRCS office for consideration for the first funding round of fiscal year 2011.

"California's farmers have responded enthusiastically to our efforts to improve air quality," Burton said.  "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.