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Incentives help almond growers reduce harvest dust

Todd Fitchette TNFP0121-fitchette-incentives.jpg
Some financial incentives aim to replace older, inefficient, nut harvesting equipment with newer models that create less dust.
Healthy Soils, NRCS equipment replacement programs help board strive for 2025 goal.

The use of incentives to drive innovation and achieve the Almond Board of California's 2025 goals of using less and doing more covered a lot of existing programs dealing with things like healthy soils, sustainability programs, mating disruption, and whole orchard recycling.

Aaron Tarango of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Central District recently outlined one increasingly popular program aimed at reducing air pollution via partially reimbursed low-dust harvesting equipment.

“We have $10 million to help almond growers minimize valley dust, one of the four sustainability goals of ABC,” reducing almond harvest dust by 50% by 2025, Tarango said during the virtual Almond Conference in December. “We ran a pilot program in 2018 involving a few harvester units in the field and got good grower feedback which allowed us to expand the program to get more resources in the orchards.”

While there is no such thing as a free lunch, this program, slated to fully launch early this year, will minimize the financial impact on capital equipment budgets.

“Growers apply and pay roughly half the cost of a new PTO pull-behind unit to take the old one out of service,” he said. “These units cost about $70,000 and our incentive funding will pick up about $35,000.

“Growers can receive up to $150,000 for as many as five units, so we can help a number of them. Our projections are that we should be able to assist in replacing 170 units under this program grant to help reduce pollution in the valley,” he added. “This should make a big dent in the amount of dust raised during harvest.”

Tarango shared the podium with Geetika Joshi of the California Department of Food and Agriculture and Carlos Suarez of the National Resource and Conservation Service.

Joshi has been working with a Healthy Soils Program that has received over $50 million in funding over the last five years.

“These programs offer incentives that farmers and ranchers can adopt because they are already tried and tested, backed by research,” Joshi said.

Almond industry participation started slowly, but has now received funding for 576 projects, 107 of them worth $8 million in 2020 alone. The most popular nut industry projects involve compost applications; cover crops; planting hedgerows and windbreaks; mulching; no till, and whole orchard recycling.

NRCS funding

Funding through the NRCS can help growers, in some cases significantly, pay for equipment that helps reduce dust during harvest operations. Specific models of Exact, Flory, Jackrabbit and Weiss-McNair equipment are currently eligible for the program.

NRCS state conservationist Suarez cited a goal of conservation of natural resources and noted that, to date, over $94 million has been dedicated to 1,473 contracts to help protect over 407,000 acres “and our goal is to double that amount providing technical and financial assistance for our farmers, ranchers, and tree nut producers.”

Information about the NRCS program is available online at https://tinyurl.com/y4are248.

The Almond Board in 2018 announced its goals for 2025, an ambitious plan that also addresses water use, pest management and zero waste.

For more news on tree nuts as reported by growers and farm advisors, subscribe to the Tree Nut Farm Press e-newsletter.

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