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Need a New Tractor? Want to Plant Cover Crops? Apply for Incentive Funding

Millions of dollars in incentive funding are available to almond growers each year to help pay for the cost of new tractors and equipment, whole orchard recycling, cover crops and other on-farm improvements.

2/4/2021

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Each year, millions of dollars in incentive funds are available to eligible almond growers to help cover the cost of buying new tractors and equipment, conducting Whole Orchard Recycling (WOR), planting cover crops and making other on-farm improvements. Many of the practices eligible for funding are not only greatly beneficial for the individual grower or business, but also support the industry’s larger journey of progress toward its Almond Orchard 2025 Goals: reducing dust and improving air quality during harvest, striving to achieve zero waste in the orchard, maximizing the “crop per drop” of water used to grow almonds, and increasing environmentally friendly pest management.

At The Almond Conference (TAC) 2020, representatives from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (District),
California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provided a detailed breakdown of the incentive funds available to growers seeking to make advancements on their operation. The Almond Board of California (ABC) proudly supports these incentive programs and encourages growers to investigate which ones best address their growing needs and/or larger vision for the future of their operation.

In addition, the District and NRCS are gearing up to announce new program details and deadlines: The District is
launching its Low-Dust Nut Harvester Incentive Program on February 9, 2021, and NRCS recently announced a deadline for its Conservation Stewardship Program (more information to come from ABC). Growers are encouraged to read the information below and then contact District and NRCS staff for more information about these programs.

Here is a quick recap of the financial help available to growers.


San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District

The District – which covers seven counties from San Joaquin to Kern – offers programs to help growers pay for new equipment or conduct WOR instead of burning orchard material. Each program listed below aims to improve to air quality in the Central Valley.

Ag Tractor Replacement Program: replace in-use, off-road equipment engaged in agricultural operations, as defined by the California Air Resources Board (CARB)

  • Eligible equipment to replace includes a Tier 0, Tier 1, or Tier 2 tractor.
  • Eligible equipment to purchase includes but is not limited to wheel loaders and tractors.
  • Incentive funds cover up to 60% of the cost of new equipment.

Ag Pump Replacement: replacement (repower) of engines/motors used to power agricultural irrigation pumps

  • Eligible equipment replacements include Tier 3 diesel to Tier 4 final diesel, and Tier 3 or Tier 4 diesel to electric with line extension.
  • Incentive funds cover up to 85% of the cost of new equipment.

Low-Dust Nut Harvester Program: replace older, conventional harvesters with new, low-dust technology equipment

  • Eligible equipment must achieve at least 40% reduction in particulate matter.
  • Incentive funds cover:
    • up to 50% of the cost of new equipment
    • up to 75% of the cost of new equipment for growers/custom harvesters who operate within a seven-mile radius of the community of Shafter

As mentioned above, the low-dust nut harvester program – which, to date, has provided $1.6 million in funding to pay for 29 projects – will expand in 2021, thanks to an infusion of $12.5 million in new state and federal funds. The District will begin accepting applications on February 9 – read this ABC article for more information.

Alternatives for Open Ag Burning: chip or shred agricultural material instead of burning

  • Eligible standards:
    • Must certify the continued agricultural use of property from which the orchards were removed
    • Agricultural material must be for soil incorporation or land application on grower property or other agricultural property
  • Incentive funds cover:
    • Chipping with soil incorporation at $600/acre
    • Chipping without soil incorporation at $300/acre
    • Maximum incentive is $60,000

For more information, visit www.valleyair.org/grants/ or call Tarango at (559) 230-5873.

California Department of Food and Agriculture

Since 2016, the state has directed more than $50.5 million to its Healthy Soils Program, which has the two-pronged goal of reducing greenhouse gases in California and improving soil health. The program supports WOR and chipping of old trees, whether they’re put back into soil, applied as mulch, used as renewable fuel at a biomass plant, used for animal bedding or spread on unpaved roads to control dust.

Program payments cover about 50% of the cost of WOR, according to CDFA Senior Environmental Scientist Geetika Joshi.

The state also offers funding through its State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, also known as SWEEP, which helps growers cover the cost of planting cover crops and hedgerows, implementing WOR and adding compost to orchards.

In 2020, the state’s programs paid out about $8 million for 107 projects, and since 2015, 217 almond projects have received $20.5 million in funding. “A lot of practices have many co-benefits” for soil and air quality and water quality, as well, Joshi said.

The next round of funding for both the Healthy Soils Program and SWEEP begins in July.

Other state initiative programs that may be of interest to growers and allied industry members include the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP), the
Proactive IPM Solutions Program and the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems Program.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offers an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) that together provide financial and technical assistance to land users, communities, state and local governments, and other federal agencies to plan and implement conservation systems.

NRCS provides funding to incentivize the implementation of environmentally friendly pest mitigation strategies such as pheromone-based integrated pest management (IPM). In fact, ABC Chair and Arvin almond grower Kent Stenderup received funds to try mating disruption in his orchard (learn more in this “How We Grow” article).

In addition to pest management, NRCS supports growers in their efforts to enhance pollinator habitat via non-chemical pest control practices, such as using cover crops and other plants to support beneficial insects that can then ward off harmful enemies. The program also provides money to growers who replace irrigation equipment, monitor soil quality, promote groundwater recharge, and take steps to reduce harvest dust.

NRCS State Conservationist Carlos Suarez said the agency invested $94 million on 1,473 projects covering 407,000 acres in California in 2020 and wants to double that this year.

“Decades of collaboration between almond growers and NRCS have gotten us to where we are today,” Suarez said.

Further, almond growers who participate in the California Almond Sustainability Program (CASP) will find that the information they input into the tool to assess their operation will also help them complete NRCS applications, as similar information is asked by NRCS during that process.

For more information about EQIP and CSP, how to apply and program eligibility, interested applicants should contact the NRCS field office responsible for the county where they farm. Visit the USDA service center locater to locate the nearest NRCS office.


For more information, industry members are welcome to view the slides presented during this session at TAC 2020.