Voluntary efforts by farmers, ranchers, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve air quality in California's San Joaquin Valley have received regulatory acknowledgement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Earlier this month, EPA published a revision to California's State Implementation Plan that for the first time credits these producer actions from a regulatory perspective.
"This is state-of-the-art work by local farmers and NRCS, but the real winners are the citizens of California's San Joaquin Valley," said NRCS Chief Jason Weller. "Through Farm Bill Programs and NRCS technical expertise, a devoted team of experts have demonstrated to EPA and other stakeholders how voluntary actions by producers can translate to quantified air quality improvements in California's San Joaquin Valley."
NRCS technical experts have met the scientific threshold for demonstrating that voluntary actions by farmers are improving air quality in the valley. Farmers and ranchers, with assistance from NRCS, have replaced aging diesel engines used for agricultural purposes with new, lower exhaust-emitting engines. Since 2008, NRCS has invested more than $100 million in this effort and offset the equivalent of emissions from one million cars.
The 2008 Farm Bill provided authority for NRCS to work with farmers and ranchers on innovative air quality improvements in regions of the country where air quality is compromised. This authority was renewed in the 2014 Farm Bill. The valley suffers from poor air quality due to its geography and topography, large population, and intensive agriculture.
"Our agricultural customers ask us to help them find collaborative win-win approaches to addressing regulatory concerns," said Carlos Suarez, State Conservationist with NRCS in California. "This effort is a great demonstration of how that can work. Farmers get credit for voluntary action and our regulatory colleagues get the proof they need to show that air quality gains in agriculture are real. "
"Through the determination, professionalism and persistence, we and our partners have done something that has never been done before – proving that voluntary agricultural conservation practices can deliver real and quantifiable air quality improvements," said Chief Weller.