By Vicky Boyd
The California Air Resources Board continues to offer financial incentives to producers to encourage them to replace older harvesting equipment, pumps and tractors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A $193 million funding request for the equipment replacement program is part of the governor’s May 2021-22 state budget revisions, which include a total of $532 million for climate-smart agriculture.
As part of the Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions – or FARMER – program, participants agree to scrap their old machinery or engines in their old equipment in return for state funding to upgrade to lower-emissions vehicles.
But San Joaquin Farm Bureau President David Strecker said the state’s tally of emissions reductions doesn’t paint the complete picture.
“It takes a lot of energy and effort to make a new tractor,” said Strecker, who farms in the Delta. “Before that, metal had to be mined and the tractor put together. How long does it take to offset the new tractor when the other was already made? Comparing two tractors from two different eras doesn’t give you the true picture of what the carbon footprint of that new machinery is.”
That said, Strecker used the FARMER program about a year ago to help replace a 40-year-old tractor that was on its last legs and was requiring an inordinate amount of maintenance just to keep it running.
FARMER funds are divided among 18 of the state’s air districts and are focused on areas with the largest number of agricultural operations and the greatest negative health impacts from ag emissions. As a result, the San Joaquin Valley Air Board receives more than 80% of the money annually, said Todd DeYoung, Valley Air Board director of grants and incentives.
Under the program, the state will pay up to 60% of the purchase price for new self-propelled equipment based on the engine’s advertised horsepower rating. It can range from $300 per horsepower for 24 to 75 horsepower tractors to $650 per horsepower for cotton pickers, articulated wheel loaders, backhoes and motor graders, he said.
The machinery must currently be in use, and the replacement must serve the same function as the old equipment.
The Valley Air Board also has a trade-up program where owners of older equipment with Tier 0 and Tier 1 engines can trade up to a refurbished Tier 3 engine. The owner of the rig from which the Tier 3 engine came then agrees to trade up to new Tier 4 equipment, DeYoung said.
Through Sept. 30, 2020, the San Joaquin Valley Air Board had received more than $160 million and funded more than 4,000 projects, according to air board information. Broken down, they included replacing 1,931 tractors and harvesters, 1,890 utility terrain vehicles, 200 agricultural trucks and 15 irrigation pumps.
The FARMER program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and funded by cap-and-trade dollars.
With additional funding from other federal, state and local sources, the Valley Air Board accepts applications year-round from farmers looking to replace older machinery, DeYoung said.
Electric equipment, such as tractors, is also is eligible for FARMER funding, although the state Air Resources Board must approve applications on a case-by-case basis, he said.
In addition, the district’s utility terrain vehicle program, “which has been very, very well received by the ag community,” has funded a large number of electric replacements, DeYoung said.
Electric tractor demos
As part of its FARMER program, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a request for proposals last year for Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects. The state air board created the new category in 2019 to test the viability of new equipment or vehicles.
DeYoung said the Valley Air Board also has an ongoing technology advancement program that will evaluate proposals for low- or zero-emission equipment.
Solectrac of Santa Rosa received a $514,688 grant from the Bay Area AQMD to show how its electric tractors can perform the same work as diesel-powered equipment on three participating farms.
They are Calplans Premium Vineyards in Napa, Arroyo Lindo Vineyard in Sonoma County and The Mushroom Farm in Pescadero, a 250-acre vegetable and alfalfa operation.
They will use the narrow-width 70-horsepower e70N electric tractor that is being developed, thanks to the grant. Each partner will also test Solectrac’s patented quick-exchange battery pack technology, which solves the issue of limited run time.
Recharging takes from four to six hours with a 220-volt outlet and overnight with a 110-volt outlet, said Christiane Heckeroth, company chief communications officer.
As part of the demonstration, participants will provide data, including fuel/electricity consumption, charging times, maintenance information, hours of operation and user experience.
The tractors are not simply diesel versions that have had the guts swapped out for electric components. Instead, they were developed from the ground up by Solectrac founder and CEO Steve Heckeroth.
“He’s been working on electric propulsion for 30 years,” Christiane Heckeroth said.
The company also manufacturers a 40-horsepower eUtility tractor, is developing a 30-horsepower minimalistic eFarmer tractor designed for row crops and distributes a 30-horsepower compact electric tractor.
“Solectrac’s tractors can replace diesels from compact up to 70-horsepower for everything from hauling and mowing to cultivation,” Christiane Heckeroth said. The two smaller machines are compatible with Category 1 implements, and the e70N can handle Category 2.