California farmers get money to clear the air

Published online on Wednesday, May. 06, 2009
By Robert Rodriguez / The Fresno Bee

The U.S Department of Agriculture is providing more than $20 million to help California farmers and ranchers reduce air pollution.

The money is being made available to farmers in 36 counties, including Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare.

Dave White, chief of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the money will go a long way toward helping California agriculture comply with local and state air-quality regulations.

The Valley, the center of the state’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry, has some of the worst air quality in the nation and has been under pressure to meet strict standards.

“We believe agriculture can be on the leading edge of setting a cleaner, greener example for protecting the air we all breathe,” White said. “We’re doing what we can to help in that pursuit, technically and financially.”

White was in Fresno Wednesday, leading the national Agriculture Air Quality Task Force. Members of the task force will continue meeting today and are responsible for dealing with agricultural air-quality issues.

Task force member Manuel Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, said complying with stricter air-quality standards is costly and can be difficult to afford when commodity prices plummet.

“After we find out what the problem is, who pays for it?” Cunha said. “It is not like we can tell Wal-Mart we want more money for our fruit.”

White said during a break in the meeting that the USDA understands the tough conditions farmers face, and it’s one reason the agency pumped more money into emission-reduction programs.

He also said his agency is trying to help farmers find solutions that are good for the environment, make economic sense and are easily implemented.

As an example, White mentioned the work of Hanford farmer Dino Giacomazzi, who uses a cultivating practice that significantly cuts the number of trips he makes through his fields on his tractor. The fewer trips through the field, the less dust that’s generated.

“It is those types of efforts that we want to support,” White said. “We want ag to survive. It’s important for people’s jobs, and we believe agriculture and the environment can find harmony.”

As part of the USDA’s effort, farmers can apply for funding if they use practices that benefit air quality. Those practices include:

Chipping the pruned limbs of almond and walnut trees rather than burning them.

Replacing polluting engines with reduced-emission models.

Reducing tillage of fields and leaving crop debris to keep dust down.

Properly disposing of chemically treated wood stakes.

Controlling dust on farm roads.

Using precision pest-control equipment to reduce volatile organic compounds emissions.

The deadline to apply is June 26. For details, visit the NRCS’s Web site at fblinks.com/ksn.

The reporter can be reached at brodriguez@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6327.

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