Air Regulators Witness Almond Harvest, Learn About Challenges

A dozen regional, state and federal air quality regulators attended the almond industry’s first Almond Harvest Tour, witnessing the three-step harvesting process first-hand and hearing directly from manufacturers and growers about the latest equipment innovations intended to help growers comply with evolving air quality regulations.

Held Sept. 20 at Travaille & Phippen Inc., in Ripon, the tour brought together representatives of the almond and equipment manufacturing industry, as well as representatives from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, State Air Resources Board and U.S. EPA.

Almond Board Environmental Committee Chair Mel Machado said the goal was to give regulators a real idea how the harvest operation works, and to see the machinery used in the process.

Regulators asked tour host Nick Gatzman, PCA and farm manager for Travaille & Phippen, specific questions about the load, annual usage and costs of operation associated with specific pieces of equipment. Many of these data points are used in establishing baselines as regulations are developed. Machado said it is important that regulators have an accurate understanding of how each specific piece of equipment is used in the almond production and harvesting process.

Gatzman pointed out that much of the equipment used in the almond operation, including engine-driven sprayers and harvesters, is used only two months out of the year at the fourth-generation family-owned, vertically integrated operation. He also stressed that there is a strong market for older pieces of equipment, particularly among small- to medium-size growers, who often purchase used equipment from larger growers with the capital to regularly buy newer equipment that has been updated to meet air quality standards.

In comparing an older versus newer model tractor, Gatzman noted that tractors can last for decades with proper maintenance and growers and field workers often favor older pieces of equipment.

“The only difference between an older piece of equipment and a newer one for me is that I can work on an older piece of equipment much easier than a new one when it breaks down in the field,” Gatzman said.

Equipment manufacturers shared some of the challenges associated with specific rules, such as integrating lower emission Tier 4 engines into low profile equipment such as shakers and sweepers, or reducing visible particulate matter and other pollutants at harvest.

Doug Flora, of Exact Corp., said manufacturers have worked with growers to adapt harvest equipment to reduce particulate matter and dust emissions at harvest and incorporate cleaner burning motors into existing equipment. But those strides have not come without challenges.

He said the need for low-profile equipment that can fit through narrow orchard configurations makes adapting equipment to new air rules sometimes difficult. Installing Interim Tier 4 engines in a sweeper, for instance, raises the engine compartment hood 4 inches, which can lower visibility and functionality in the orchard. These newer motors also tend to run hotter, creating potential worker safety issues.

“When you talk about moving to a Tier 4, it’s important to understand that it creates challenges to manufacturers in terms of space and other issues,” Flora said. “We are fitting all these things into the package and making it palatable to the orchard industry.”