Agriculture

Monday, Jan. 21, 2013

By John Holland
[email protected]

MODESTO — A scrap metal company made sure that a tractor would never, ever pollute the air again.

Modesto Junk Co. demolished the tractor Friday as part of a program that aims to reduce air pollution from farm equipment.

Farmers get money toward new, cleaner- burning models but have to verify that the old tractors are destroyed — in this case by a massive set of shears at the Ninth Street scrap yard.

“Destruction is a huge part of what we do,” said Jeannine Tackett of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. “We like to chop things up.”

She spoke last week at a meeting organized by the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. More than 50 farmers heard about tractor-replacement incentives from the district and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The district will pay up to 80 percent of the cost of new tractors, combines, loaders and other farm equipment that qualify for the program. The total depends on the new equipment’s horsepower.

“It would definitely help,” said David Passadori, an almond grower near Ballico who is looking for a 100-horsepower tractor. “I’m assuming it would cover at least half the cost.”

The district also helps farmers replace diesel irrigation pumps with cleaner versions, diesel or electric.

The district’s funding, about $20 million this year, comes in part from state and federal grants. It also gets a cut of a $12 annual surcharge on vehicle registration fees in the valley.

Officials said the new tractors spew far less pollution than the old ones. This includes nitrous oxide and particulates, which can harm people with sensitive lungs.

“It’s been good for the environment,” said Tom Garton of Garton Tractor in Turlock, one of the dealers taking part in the program. “These new engines are 100 times more clean- burning than a decade ago.”

Garton said the program has been especially helpful to dairy farmers, who have kept using old tractors to deal with a financial squeeze caused by low milk prices and high feed costs.

Modesto Junk is one of 18 dismantlers that take in the tractors for the district, which stretches from San Joaquin to Kern counties.

The big shears do not go to work until a district representative is on the site, said Keith Highiet, assistant manager at the scrap yard.

The shears just happen to be made by Caterpillar Inc., best known for its tractors. Modesto Junk bought them in 2011, about the time it joined the air district program.

As a news release back then put it, “The older units get scrapped, the new units are put in to use, and we all get to breathe a bit easier.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at [email protected] or (209) 578-2385.

The original story, from The Modesto Bee, can be found at modbee.com.