President Obama’s recent trip to Alaska and the Arctic put a spotlight on increasing the United States’ commitment to reducing emissions and greenhouse gases. At the same time, Allen Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum said in a press release that it’s important to highlight the gains already accomplished with the increased use of advanced clean diesel technology and fuels.

Agriculture is certainly doing its part, as equipment companies have made the transition to Tier 4 engines. Tier 4 refers to a generation of federal air emissions standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that apply to new diesel engines used in off-road equipment, like tractors. Essentially, it requires manufacturers to reduce the levels of particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to a level that is 50-96 percent lower than the previous generation of diesel engines.

Most Tier 4 engines are electronically controlled; a computer monitors and adjusts the fuel and air mixture to optimize emissions and performance for the engine on a real-time basis.

While Tier 4 emissions requirements apply to new products only and do not apply retroactively to any existing machines or equipment, many farm equipment manufacturers sell kits so farmers and ranchers (through their retailers) can upgrade to Tier 4. The Equipment Manufacturers Association has some good information about Tier 4 engines here.

“A complete transformation of diesel technology in the U.S. has taken place in the last 15 years that has virtually eliminated particulate (soot) emissions from new diesel engines across the board,” Schaeffer said in the release. “Today, clean diesel technology with near-zero emissions is standard equipment in nearly all cars, trucks, off‐road diesel vehicles and equipment...”

The agricultural sector is considered by some groups as a contributor to climate change, saying it falls just behind the energy sector in its impact on global emissions. More importantly, it also is the most at risk by the nature of the business. In a survey of ag companies, more than 90 percent reported to the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) that their business is vulnerable to physical climate change impacts. Extreme weather events and droughts continue to impact agriculture, including the drought in California, which is costing the agricultural sector over $2 billion and counting.

International Community Play a Role, Too
President Obama has pledged the U.S. will cut emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025, but other countries have a responsibility to commit to cleaner engines and fuels, too. Several nations have proposed reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, and additional emission reduction initiatives will likely be proposed at the United Nations summit in Paris this December.

“To accomplish these emissions reductions on a global level, all nations must work for high-quality ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel and renewable diesel fuels. These are the foundation that enables the use of low-emissions technology like particulate trap upgrades to engines and equipment,” Schaeffer said.