San Joaquin Valley farmers have until June 17 to apply for part of $450,000 allocated by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to offset a portion of the cost of hauling to a toxic waste dump an estimated 225,000 tons of used, arsenic-treated grapestakes left over from the removal of more than 100,000 acres of vineyards over the past five years.

For years, grape growers burned wooden stakes along with vines of bulldozed vineyards. However, air quality officials put a stop to not only burning treated stakes, but to grinding them up as well. Treated grapestakes have been relegated to a toxic waste designation, leaving approved landfills as the only source of disposal.

Hauling off the stakes is expensive and many growers have left them piled in fields or in farm roadways, oftentimes still intertwined with the old vines and wire. Some growers were not aware of the no-burn edict and were forced to extract treated stakes from the tangled pile of vines, wire and stakes before they were allowed to burn the removed vines.

John Beyer, NRCS California air quality coordinator, said growers will can be compensated up to $60 per ton to remove as much as 312 tons of treated grapestakes to one of two approved disposal sites, Forward Inc. Landfill in Manteca or American Avenue Landfill in Tranquility, Calif. Beyer said the cost share is based on a $120 per ton estimate to load and haul the treated stakes to one of the two landfills.

Stakes from Kern, Kings, Fresno, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties are eligible for the cost-share funds.

The money is being made available through the air quality enhancement portion of the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Untreated or metal stakes are not covered. Treated end posts are.

Applicants must qualify as agricultural producers and provide evidence of ownership or control of the property which the application/contract will apply. The treated grape stakes must have been used or originate only the applicants own property and not any other agricultural operation.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com