Farmer incentive program improves air quality in the Valley

Photo, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

In an effort to reduce the amount of air pollution in the Central Valley, farmers are voluntarily participating in a program that will cover a portion of the cost for them to replace old equipment with new low emission equipment.

The program is called the agricultural tractor replacement program. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is offering this as an incentive to replace in-use, off-road mobile equipment that are engaged in agricultural operations.

The program offers monetary incentives for farmers to replace their existing equipment with reduced-emission equipment.

Funding through the agricultural tractor replacement program is determined on the size of operation based on total acreage of the applicant’s agriculture operation in the Central Valley.

Those who apply to the program can expect to be approved in approximately 9-12 months, after which an inspector will schedule a date to inspect the equipment that is planned to be replaced.

Manuel Cunha, President of the Nisei Farmers League commented that since the program was conceived in 2008 they have had the opportunity to replace approximately over 13,000 tractors for farmers.

The incentive for farmers participating in this program, Cunha said, is the opportunity to not only get new and more efficient equipment, but to also avoid an industry regulation on farmers to lower emissions.

Cunha also stated that the program offers farmers a chance to pay a portion of the cost for a new reduced-emission replacement that is more efficient than their equipment that is usually over 40 years old, while at the same time help reduce air pollution.

After being told by the California Air Resource Board and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that all industries would need to reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions or face mandatory regulations, Cunha said the idea of creating the voluntary incentive program was their solution to not only avoid the mandatory regulation but also help the environment and farmers at the same time.

Cunha said that from the amount of farmers that have continued to participate in the program since 2008 they have managed to do just that.

According to Aaron Tarango, Program Manager in the grants and incentives department for the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the program has already reduced over 17,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and also reduced their fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), which is an air pollutant, by over 1,000 tons overall.

The program hopes to reach their reduction goal of 11 tons by December of 2023. Cunha said from March of 2017 to July of 2022 they are already close to 9 ½  tons.

In an effort to prevent any regression on the progress made through this program, Cunha noted that part of the process involves crushing the old tractors to prevent someone else from using them and undoing the work of those involved in the program.

Cunha said that the Central Valley Air District is the only air district that is doing a program like this and hopes to set the groundwork to expand the program outside of the district that currently includes Fresno, Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Kings, Tulare, and Kern County.

The amount of reductions made by this program, Tarango said, are significant beyond any other grant program that the district offered and the program is continuing to improve air quality.

“The next goal is to keep getting these tremendous reductions from these programs,” Tarango said. “Just keep getting these significant reductions with this type of program to continue to clean up the Valley’s air.” 

The impact of this program also goes beyond the farmer. According to Cunha, farmers continue to participate in the program because of the higher level of efficiency from the new reduced-emission equipment and in doing so also help tractor dealerships.

“When this program came about we were able to revitalize and regenerate those dealerships to where they now can buy tractors and mechanics and all those things. It really helped those small communities that have a tractor dealership,” Cunha said.

Since its conception the program has been a success and continues to remain a popular option for farmers to embrace. Tarango stated that farmers who have yet to try the program out are encouraged to reach out and apply because of the potential it has to help others.

For more information on the agricultural tractor program visit the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District website and the program will be listed under the Featured items for clean air rebates and grants for residents and businesses. There you can find a more detailed overview of the programs being offered along with program guidelines

Adam Ricardo Solis has written for The Collegian as a staff reporter covering a variety of topics and transferred from Fresno City College to Fresno State where he majored in agriculture business. He is excited to incorporate what he has learned about the agriculture industry in the Central Valley into future articles while also covering a variety of other community matters.