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Ag Burning Alternative Funding Aims To Help Small Grower Issues

New funding will further help the industry reach the phase-out goal of agricultural burning while promoting whole orchard recycling, chipping and helping smaller growers take advantage of the practices.


Chipping almond prunings

Most almond growers are aware that agricultural burning in the San Joaquin Valley is being phased out. By 2025, the burning of old orchards, tree trimmings and other woody material will be eliminated because of concerns about air quality. The alternatives include Whole Orchard Recycling (WOR), chipping and shredding, but many of these options come with hefty price tags. 

In recognition of the financial impact alternative ag burning methods can cost, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District continues to provide millions in incentive dollars that can help growers offset the expenses. This year, the air district has allocated more than $178 million for ag burning alternatives via its Alternatives to Agricultural Open Burning Incentive Program

The incentive grants are especially important for smaller growers, who have been exempted from some of the burning bans up to this point because the costs can be exorbitant to buy the equipment to chip and shred woody material or to hire others to recycle old orchards. 

Today, almond growers still can burn no more than 15 acres of removed trees or up to 20 acres of prunings. Those exemptions, however, will be phased out in the next few years. 

Gabriele Ludwig, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs for the Almond Board of California, recommends that smaller growers take advantage of the incentive funding while it’s still available.  

She acknowledged that many smaller growers continue to have a hard time not only affording the cost of hiring people to do orchard removals or chipping, but also frequently have difficulty competing against larger operations just to schedule the work. 

“The issue is really for smaller acreage growers or sites where it is hard to get equipment in,” Ludwig explained. “There is an upfront cost for a pruning chipper or tub grinder to show up regardless of the size of the job, and as noted several growers said that they struggled to get a chipper to show up for small jobs unless there was a larger job on the way. So, this funding is trying to help with that.” 

The focus on setting aside anti-burning money specifically for small growers came at the urging of several industry officials, including Elaine Trevino, president of the Almond Alliance. 

“We communicated the challenges faced by smaller almond growers with chipping, shredding and incorporation of orchard removals and prunings, the need to expand the existing alternative program to address grower demand along with ways to facilitate the expansion of the fleet of orchard removal and soil incorporation equipment needed to provide the service,” Trevino said. 

The air district has been funding alternatives to burning for many years. In addition, it and other state and federal agencies continue to offer financial incentives to growers who replace older equipment in an effort to reduce dust during harvest or engine emissions at any time.