Incentive Programs Make New Equipment Affordable

Almond harvest 2020 is upon us in all its hectic glory. As growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley start shaking this week, equipment that has been largely resting for an entire year will be put to work in furious fashion to safely bring in this year’s crop. And while harvest 2020 is understandably the key focus of this time of year, it’s not too early for growers and their equipment operators and custom harvesters to begin considering what old equipment may need to be upgraded or replaced entirely before the following harvest.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (air district) and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) both provide a range of financial incentives that make the cost of replacing not only shakers, sweepers and harvesters, but also tractors, sprayers and irrigation pumps more affordable. Given the high cost of purchasing new equipment and implementing certain new orchard management practices, these incentives can help growers stretch their budgets and get the most machine for their money.

By design, there are also important environmental improvement objectives behind each incentive program – objectives that are consistent with the almond industry’s Almond Orchard 2025 Goals that include reducing harvest dust by 25% and achieving zero waste in orchards by putting everything grown to optimal use by 2025.

“I think these programs are important, and increasing grower applications can play a role in helping the industry achieve all four 2025 goals,” said Jesse Roseman, principal analyst for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the Almond Board of California (ABC). “Growers who participate in these programs reduce their out-of-pocket costs for new equipment and cutting-edge practices that act as benchmarks in the industry’s goals.”

In a recent ABC California Almond Sustainability Program webinar, officials from the air district and NRCS discussed what machinery and practices their programs cover, how the programs work and how growers can apply.


Covering up to 60% of the cost of a new tractor

Since 2009, the air district has awarded more than $406 million in funding to growers and ranchers in the San Joaquin Valley to promote healthy air quality, according to Aaron Tarango, the district’s grant supervisor. That investment has been matched by more than $466 million in spending by growers to replace 7,550 tractors as well as thousands of pieces of older equipment and pumps. Tarango estimated that noxious emissions have been reduced by 50,819 tons in the past 11 years through district incentives matched by funds from Central Valley farmers. 

The air district prioritizes replacing older, lower-tier equipment through their programs. Growers are encouraged to replace tractors and other machinery in tiers 0, 1 or 2 (purchased in or before 2006) with tier 4 equipment, that is, “the latest and greatest technology” available, according to Tarango.

Funds received are based on the horsepower (hp) of the engine being replaced. Here’s how it works: If a tier 0, 1 or 2 piece of equipment is 100hp, the district will help fund the purchase of replacement equipment with up to 25% more hp. Depending on the piece of equipment and the size of its engine, payments will range from $300 to $650 per hp and can cover up to 60% of the cost of a new model. 

In 2019, the district piloted the Low Dust Harvester Replacement Program, which will cover 50% of a grower’s cost to replace older harvesting equipment with newer, low-dust models. That year, the air district funded 29 projects worth $1.9 million, Tarango said. The program was so popular that in June 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency set aside another $10.3 million to extend the program into 2021.

Tarango said that money “might not help [growers] with this year’s harvest, but it will be available for subsequent harvests down the road.”

Beyond harvest itself, another air district incentive program – the Alternative to Agricultural Open Burning Incentive Program – offers funds to growers who grind up old orchards, rather than burning their trees, and then incorporate that woody biomass back into the soil (a.k.a., Whole Orchard Recycling). Growers participating in this program are eligible to receive $300-$600 per acre, with a maximum of $60,000 per grower. Incentive recipients are typically paid four-to-six weeks after their completion of Whole Orchard Recycling, and after an invoice has been sent to the air district.1

Tarango strongly encourages growers with older equipment or older orchards to take advantage of the district’s incentive programs.

“We’re still going,” he said. “The money is still there.”

More information is available at www.valleyair.org/grants/ and applications can be submitted at grants@valleyair.org. Growers who would like to speak with Tarango directly may contact him at aaron.tarango@valleyair.org or (559) 230-5873.


NRCS programs have broad reach

Similar to the District, NRCS offers two programs to help growers achieve and maintain their growing goals. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) helps participants cover the cost of planning and installing conservation practices. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers additional opportunities for those already meeting a baseline level of stewardship. Projects might include improving irrigation systems, planting a cover crop for bees or soil health, or integrating better pest management systems. Growers can apply at any time of the year for either program.

In addition, growers who have participated in the Market Facilitation Program or in the new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program – both of which are provided via USDA’s Farm Service Agency – have a leg up in filling out NRCS applications as their confidential information is accessible to the NRCS. This means that during the application process, growers have already completed the first step in qualifying for the NRCS incentive program because of the eligibility for other USDA programs.

Ted Strauss is NRCS’s air quality resource conservationist for California. He said the NRCS programs target a range of environmental issues, from air to soil health to water quality.

“Our primary role is conservation planning,” he said. “Participation is totally voluntary and always confidential. We’re not a regulatory body.”

For growers, EQIP funding can be used to help replace a diesel-powered piece of equipment, with incentives based off horsepower and ranging from $325.61 to $507.17 per horsepower. That amount translates to $32,000 for a 100hp tractor or $114,000 for a 200hp tractor, Strauss said. The same rates apply to all self-propelled equipment.

In addition, almond growers who hire out their harvesting each year can collect $39.98 per acre for up to three years if low-dust harvesting equipment is used.

“Some producers have used those funds to purchase their own equipment, which is great because it helps with permanent reduction of emissions,” Strauss said. “So even if you don’t own the equipment currently being replaced, you’re still a good candidate for this program.”

Like the air district, NRCS offers CSP incentive funds to growers who find alternatives to burning old trees, providing $238.36 per acre if the chips are sent to a biomass power plant or $766.94 per acre if the chips are recycled back into the soil, used for animal bedding or applied as mulch on another piece of ag land.

NRCS also provides EQIP incentives ranging from $3,238.13 to $39,734 to replace motors on pumps. Funds are also available to help treat unpaved roads with lignin derivatives, oil or polymer emulsions.


More information on NRCS’s CSP may be found on this handout and growers can submit applications year-round at local USDA service centers. Those looking to speak with Strauss may reach him at ted.strauss@usda.gov or (559) 490-5129. — Article Courtesy of the Almond Board of California

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