BY CRAIG W. ANDERSON
The California Air Resources Board revealed during workshops in February that the ag equipment rule – the “tractor rule” – will apply only to the eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley, presenting a challenge to the valley’s agriculture industry, according to San Joaquin Farm Bureau program director Katie Patterson.
The major issue now is: How can a less onerous rule be created?
If a less onerous mandate is to appear it will have to do so before December as that’s when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) expects the San Joaquin Valley (SJV)-only rule to a vote.
“Farmers, ranchers, ag businesses, must turn out for the workshops and speak up,” Patterson said. “Also communicate with us at Farm Bureau regarding what your needs are so we can work through those issues with CARB.”
It is vital, she said, that growers, packers, farm managers, farm equipment sales and manufacturing companies and anyone associated with agriculture “attend CARB-sponsored workshops and make your voice heard.”
The mid-March workshop “wasn’t as heavily attended as I thought it would be,” Patterson said. “We were shocked by the move from a state rule to a SJV rule and everyone who owns a tractor needs to attend these workshops.”
The board is looking at self-propelled diesel equipment 25 hp or greater, including tractors, harvesters, combines, balers, swathers, sprayers, forklifts and all-terrain vehicles and, said a board document, “Understanding the relative contribution of various equipment” is necessary to develop the “most efficient and effective program.”
When, and if, the rule is approved by CARB, it will fulfill a 2007 state implementation plan (SIP) that allows 5 to 10 tons per day of NOx emissions from agricultural equipment in the valley. The emission parameters were established by California to comply with federal Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements.
“It’s not a matter of if this SJV-only rule will be implemented, but when,” Patterson said, adding there are glitches in the truck rule, including add-on filters designed to burn particulate matter at very high temperatures that have overheated and set fires – at least nine school buses have burned; the reporting system has a “number of glitches” and overall it is a “very challenging” system;
She also said there has been no answer yet to the question, “Will tier 3 engines have to be replaced with tier 4 engines?”
The March workshops were the “first dog-and-pony shows and I anticipate there will probably be at least four workshops during the spring and summer months,” commented Patterson.
CARB said in a statement the SJV rule will ensure consideration of emission reductions that many valley producers have already achieved by upgrading their equipment via the Carl Moyer Program, local San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District funds, and the USDA/NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Programs (EQIP).
Upcoming workshops will focus on state implementation plan Credibility of Incentives, provide an overview of how the SJV-only rule will be structured to comply with the 2007 state ozone obligations, and promote participation and feedback by stakeholders.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lowered ozone standards in 2006 and CARB anticipates reaching future reductions via advancements in emission technology but additional reductions may be needed beyond what cleaner engines currently provide. CARB believes the cleanest technology for ag equipment will be available by the 2020 time frame.
Ag equipment owners in the valley “will have nearly a 10-year window before the second phase of the rule might be implemented,” according to the Almond Hullers and Processors Association.
The NRCS program to help finance replacement engines for ag equipment has been “one of our most successful programs,” said Ora Van Steyn, NRCS district conservationist. “Federal funding drives the statewide program so we’re competing with other counties for funds.”
She said San Joaquin County received $3.6 million for engine replacements and the county funded 55 in 2012; 43 contracts were completed, one canceled, and 11 “haven’t been completed – they’ve not been paid yet – because the item may be on order or a special implement.”
With every completed contract Van Steyn said, “One to three old tractors are turned in, which means about 100 tractors are taken out of ag.” While old, the tractors must be operational.
A six-inch hole is drilled in the engine block and the equipment must be destroyed, turned into scrap, which is the responsibility of the participant. However, the owner does receive payment for the scrap value.
“NRCS receives about 300 applications per year,” Van Steyn said. “Farmers and the ag industry are being proactive now, getting ahead of the curve as much as possible.”
“Members must stay engaged and show up at the upcoming workshops, the dates of which are unknown at this point,” said Patterson. “And there is the concern that the economic condition of California will prevent people from reaching attainment. We hope CARB will have a better attitude with this round of engine replacements and compliance than when the diesel truck rules were implemented. The board’s attitude then was, ‘Some people will just have to go out of business.’”