Potential Changes to Ag Burning Regulations in the San Joaquin Valley

Brian German Agri-Business, Regulation

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District) is considering making changes to ag burn regulations. During a recent meeting of the District’s Governing Board, further restrictions were approved for surface harvested prunings. President and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA), Roger Isom said it has become even more difficult to comply with the District’s Ag Burn Program in recent years. Piles of prunings have been sitting for months in some areas because of a lack of burning availability and other outlets.

Ag Burning

“Unfortunately, the majority of biomass plants have closed. There’s only four or five left in the Valley. Another one, Rio Bravo here in Fresno, is going to be closing later this year and we have no alternatives,” said Isom. “Plants that we thought would be in place by now – ones that are either doing cellulosic ethanol, renewable diesel, or biochar, or pyrolysis to create electricity – there’s nothing commercially available out there to handle a large volume.”

The District is mandated to review the plans for ag burning every five years as part of SB 705. Although the District’s 2020 Staff Report includes further limiting the burning of prunings, there are some provisions for suitable alternatives. The District voted to increase funding for the Alternatives to Open Burning of Agricultural Materials Incentive Program. Alternatives include the practice of whole orchard recycling. Isom noted the practice is important but is still unlikely to eliminate the necessity of ag burning in its entirety. WAPA is encouraging industry members to get engaged and provide feedback as to how this will impact ag operations.

“On February 25 the California Air Resources Board is holding a hearing to consider the District’s plan that would still allow for some burning. But again, there’s going to be a huge debate; there’s going to be a big push to eliminate it,” Isom noted. “Growers need to be at that hearing – or participate via Zoom – or we face the serious likelihood of not being able to burn at all.”

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Brian German

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Multimedia Journalist for AgNet West