State and federal grants are delivering more than $30 million for incentives to help farmers and food processing facilities in the San Joaquin Valley to upgrade trucks and farm equipment to cleaner models.
The funding comes ahead of the air district’s deadline for the industry to reduce its smog-forming emissions down to 11 tons by 2023, which is the equivalent of replacing about 12,000 tractors. It highlights an eight-year effort for agricultural groups to research and test ways that yard trucks could go all-electric.
“It is absolutely great. It really is,” said Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League.
The funding—from EPA, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Air Resources Board (CARB) and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District—added up to about $20 million for upgrading tractors and other farm equipment and another $10 million for yard trucks.
The incentives dollars for the voluntary programs allow farmers to upgrade tractors from a bottom tier for emissions standards to the most efficient tier-four category. Larger operations would go from tier three to tier four. They could then sell the used tractors to smaller farmers to trade up from tier zero, creating a chain of air quality improvements across the industry, according to Cunha. He estimated about 8,000 tractors have been replaced this way.
The incentives for yard trucks, or “goats,” would help to transition vehicles for citrus growers, almond hullers and processing plants. This has proved challenging from an engineering perspective. The trucks would need enough clearance to go over grates and drop cages and be able to go long hours without charging during harvest season.
Going away from the packing house presents far more issues for electrification, said Cunha, particularly with driving in fields and up hills. Hauling trailers on the road raised concerns about electric hookups, especially if traveling to another state.
Nisei Farmers League, along with the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) and the air district, have been working with the airline industry since 2008 to bring their electric aircraft movers to packing plants. That IndyCar design, as Cunha described it, provides more visibility for the operator.
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The new funding will make a significant difference in turning over more equipment.
“That was something that we've been interested in a long time,” said Chris McGlothlin, a policy adviser for WAPA. “We've had a lot of conversations about it.”
McGlothlin said an electric yard truck alone would cost more than $300,000, with the charging station, power, connections and other equipment adding up to “a pretty big price tag.” The EPA funding would provide about 45% of the cost, while a CARB voucher would deliver up to $150,000, adding up to about $312,000, though McGlothlin cautioned CARB is not likely to fund each grant to the full level.
“The price tag is the big pill to swallow for a lot of our ag guys,” he said, explaining that many farmers tend to instead get a used truck from a port or airport for just $50,000. “To really have both of these pools of money combined together on the same piece of equipment that an applicant is applying for, it's significant and it's huge to get that kind of response.”
McGlothlin said the replacements would span about 50 facilities throughout the valley and about 120 pieces of equipment.
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