San Joaquin Valley Farmers and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are partnering to purchase $11 million worth of cleaner air through newer diesel engines, chipping farm wastes in lieu of burning, conservation tillage, and treating rural roads to reduce dust.

Collectively these practices will result in a 723-ton reduction in particulates, that could otherwise result in PM-10, a type of air pollution.

“We are pleased to be partners with the farmers in the San Joaquin Valley in their fight to keep the Valley a healthy community; a place where people want to continue to live, work and raise their children,” says Jose Acevedo, deputy chief for programs of the NRCS in Washington D.C.

“California is on the forefront of tackling air quality challenges,” says Chuck Bell, NRCS state conservationist in California. “Farmers recognize that along with industry, transportation and others they have a role to play in meeting those challenges. Working together in a constructive and voluntary fashion, farmers and NRCS have made progress on policy, educational and practical fronts to improve air quality. Together we have realized a substantial 2,179-ton reduction in air pollutants since 1998 in the San Joaquin Valley.”

Program mushrooms

Funded through NRCS's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the air quality effort began in 1998 with just $294,000 and 35 cooperating farmers. This year the program will involve 510 farmer contracts and $5.5 million of EQIP funds. Farmers match each federal dollar expended, placing the total investment in Valley air quality this year at $11 million.

Acevedo noted that while this is the sixth year the air quality effort has been under way, the project was able to vastly expand its scope due to last year's reauthorization and expansion of EQIP, a part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (Farm Bill) of 2002.

“Despite the greatly expanded resources, however, there were still twice as many EQIP applications for air quality assistance as available funds could accommodate,” said Roger Isom, of the Fresno-based California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association. “This clearly indicates a huge willingness among Valley farmers to participate in a voluntary, collaborative process.”

Program additions

New aspects of the San Joaquin air quality program in 2003/04 include incentive funds for conservation tillage to reduce trips across the field and also funds to replace older diesel engines with newer, more efficient and cleaner burning ones. In this later regard EQIP will continue work previously done through the Carl Moyer Program.

The Agriculture Improving Resources (AIR) Partners was formed in 2000 to help farmers, ranchers and food and fiber processors in promoting the voluntary improvement of air quality through scientifically and cost-effective measures. It originally began as a coalition that had been instrumental in working with the USDA's Air Quality Task Force to address air quality issues affecting agriculture around the country.

Among its educational activities, AIR has prepared and distributed a guidebook that offers practical on-farm activities for minimizing particulate matter and dust from unpaved roads and equipment yards. Distributed to more than 10,000 farmers during workshops held by AIR last winter and spring, the guidebook will be followed by a second workbook, currently under way, that will offer conservation management practices to reduce PM10 from field and cultural activities.

Partners in AIR include: Almond Hullers and Processors Association, California Air Resources Board, California Apple Commission, California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, California Citrus Mutual, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Grape & Tree Fruit League, California Cotton Ginners & Growers Association, California Plant Health Association, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Kern County Farm Bureau, Kings County Farm Bureau, Madera County Farm Bureau, Merced County Farm Bureau, Nisei Farmers League, Raisin Bargaining Association, San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, Tulare County Farm Bureau, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.