CA Farmers Achieve More Air Quality Gains

Taylor HillmanEnvironment

Although California continues to cope with some of the Nation’s most compromised air quality, farmers continued to reduce emissions from their operations in 2015.

During 2015, California’s farmers, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, voluntarily applied seven conservation practices to reduce pollutants by 788 tons—an equivalent of 170,000 low emissions vehicles for the NOx reductions alone.

“The work we are doing with farmers helps the air we all breathe by reducing oxides of nitrogen (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOC), and particulate matter (PM),” says State Conservationist Carlos Suarez. “We entered into 606 contracts with farmers who are voluntarily undertaking this work—the Agency invested $19 million and the farmers matched that—for a total of $38 million in 2015 alone.”

NRCS provides customers with technical and financial support for air quality and other conservation measures through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The seven farming practices applied in 2015 to improve air quality are: 1) replace old, high-polluting off-road mobile farm equipment with newer, cleaner models; 2) treat unpaved farm roads to reduce dust; 3) chip orchard debris to prevent smoke associated with agricultural burning; 4) combine disking operations to reduce passes across fields to reduce dust ;5) transition to cleaner irrigation pump engines and electric motors; 6) limit soil disturbance and keep soil covered with crop residue; and 7) use precision pesticide application that reduces volatile organic compounds by at least 20 percent.

Beginning with the 2008 Farm Bill, financial assistance offered through EQIP has helped accelerate the use of conservation practices that use management or cleaner air technologies to reduce emissions. The voluntary emission reductions achieved through conservation helps improve air quality, public health and welfare, and progress towards achieving “attainment” of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under the Clean Air Act.