Air district offers support after ban on open burning

San Joaquin Valley Air District urges farmers to make use of district assistance following ban on open agricultural burning

SACRAMENTO – The San Joaquin Valley Air District is advising growers throughout the San Joaquin Valley to take advantage of their program to stop agricultural burning, with almost $180 million in state funding to support the program.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District – otherwise known as the valley air district – is urging farmers to be aware of their Alternatives to agricultural open burning incentive program. This is a state-funded program that assists with the removal of excess vineyard and orchard materials through new non-burning alternatives. With $178.2 million in state funding, the air district, in collaboration with California Air Resources Board (CARB), has taken up this new strategy to cut down and eventually put a stop to the burning of woody waste from the removal of orchards and vineyards.

“We strongly urge growers, especially smaller farming operations, to carefully plan for these new requirements and take advantage of new resources for new alternatives that help with our air quality challenges and also provide significant additional crop and carbon reduction benefits,”  Samir Sheikh, executive director and air pollution control officer for the air district, said.

As part of their ongoing efforts to achieve clean air in the San Joaquin Valley, the district hopes to put a stop to burning operations by the end of 2024.

The program will help farmers adhere to the district’s new requirements to discontinue agricultural open burning. Additionally, the program provides incentives for purchasing the new agricultural wood-chipping equipment. The program is available for growers throughout the Valley, with funding available for smaller farming operations as well. According to the air district’s website, applications for the program are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis while funds are available.

Using the most recent research on some emerging alternatives for the burning, the district’s new strategy provides a quick transition away from open burning while also providing flexibility to the smallest farming operations as they adjust to this phase-out. Through their Valley-based research and with $178.2 million in funding from the state to support the program, the district is providing resources and assistance to help reduce the high costs associated with these new alternatives.

“As a second generation Valley grower, I understand the difficulties faced by growers in responding to the drought and many other challenges, and critical importance of transitioning to new and more sustainable practices,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, chair of the air district’s governing board, said. “The Valley Air District is here to assist growers in responding to these challenges.”

Since the adoption of this program and new phase-out requirements, the San Joaquin Valley has seen a tremendous reduction in open burning through the adoption of the program’s new practices. The Valley is on track to achieving a 90% reduction by the end of this year. Additional requirements for smaller growers at the end of 2022 and 2023 will continue to be provided to further reduce open burning before reaching the phase-out by the end of 2024.

“Working with our Valley growers to reduce [agricultural burning] through new technologies is critically important to improving public health for our residents, particularly in rural Valley communities,” Dr. Tania Pacheco-Werner, air district and CARB Board member, said.  “Newly available resources will help Valley growers transition to these new practices in a feasible manner that protects our communities’ health and livelihood.”

According to an air district assistance bulletin, the district’s governing board voted to approve the district’s recommendations on agricultural burning back on June 17, 2021. The recommendations came from a supplemental report developed by the district in close coordination with CARB, agricultural stakeholders and interested public members. CARB provided their concurrence with the district’s report on June 18. The supplemental report addressed mandates from Senate Bill 705, a law that requires growers to have a permit from CARB before partaking in agricultural burning. The district, along with CARB, stakeholders and public members, developed an updated phase-out schedule to achieve the complete discontinuation of agricultural burning in the San Joaquin Valley by January 1, 2025.

Although majority of agricultural burning will be phased out in 2025, there are some exceptions, according to the bulletin. The limited exceptions where burning is allowed include the removal of apple, pear and quince, which is a sour apple-like fruit, plants, diseased material removal, the removal of rice leaves and banks and it can be used for limited maintenance purposes.

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