The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to approve the plan to end agricultural burning in the San Joaquin Valley. CARB established January 1, 2025, as the absolute end date for the practice during a recent meeting. Several environmental justice groups and some CARB Board members expressed disappointment in the decision to phase out ag burning.
“Some of the Board members didn’t agree with staff, they thought it should be done sooner,” said Roger Isom, President, and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association. “Thankfully, we were able to convince them that that’s not possible. The technologies to replace biomass plants are not there and there’s not enough incentive monies to carry out all the chipping that needs to be done.”
Over the past few years, the number of necessary facilities to address ag waste has declined by approximately 75 percent. Farmers have been left with few options other than burning the waste. Isom noted the issue has been further complicated with a mandate requiring biomass plants to burn 80 percent forestry waste. Landfills no longer accepting ag waste is also adding to the issues that are literally piling up for growers. “We have guys that have been waiting for four months with piles of chips on their orchard floor that they cannot get burned because there hasn’t been a burn day,” said Isom.
During the meeting, concern was expressed about how the elimination of agricultural burning is going to impact smaller operations. Chipping ag waste is an option, however, chipping operations are generally working in 100+ acre farms. Operating costs for commercial chippers can prevent them from prioritizing smaller farmers. Significant work will be conducted looking for alternative methods for disposing of ag waste prior to the end to ag burning.
“We’ve got to come up with solutions for those guys and we need more time,” Isom explained. “Thankfully the Board, in the end, agreed with that. They gave us basically until 2025. Now it’s up to us to find those solutions.”