Farmers must declare diesel tractors and trucks as agricultural vehicles by March 31 in order to qualify for an extension on new regulations that require older diesel engines measure up to 2010 standards.
The regulations, approved by the California Air Resources Board, aim to reduce emissions by requiring all diesel trucks, buses and agricultural equipment be upgraded with cleaner, more modern engines.
Under the extension, most farm equipment won’t have to be replaced until 2023. Some trucks, however, could need new engines by 2014.
Deadlines on retrofits depend on the age, mileage and purpose of the vehicles, according to Cynthia Cory, director of environmental affairs for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
“The whole reason we put it in there is that farmers don’t drive their vehicles that much,” Cory said. “The majority of the time, you don’t have that high of mileage. They use them at the beginning of the season for planting and the end for harvest.”
Lower mileage means lower emissions, no matter the age or efficiency of the engine.
The extension is crucial to Tuolumne County farmers, said Dick Gaiser, president of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau located in Jamestown.
A brand new truck could cost upwards of $75,000, whereas many farmers who bought their vehicles used could have spent maybe $15,000, he said.
“Every time the state does something, it makes it more expensive for us to compete and it hurts,” Gaiser said.
Equipment like tractors don’t get used regularly throughout the year, but are critical to farms during crucial planting and harvesting seasons.
“We have three diesel CAT pieces of equipment, all as old as we are,” Gaiser said. “We don’t use them often, but when we need them we start them, run them and use them. You don’t put more than 100 hours on them in a year, and they’re convenient.
“We just can’t justify anything else,” he said.
Some trucks used for agricultural purposes don’t qualify for the extension because they travel larger-than-allowable distances to move goods to other places, Cory said.
Also, the regulation puts a statewide cap on the number of vehicles categorized as “specialty agricultural vehicles,” such as trucks used to transport cotton modules and trucks used exclusively to resupply airplanes or helicopters.
The complexity of the regulation, which depends on numerous factors and classifications, can be difficult to keep track of.
Monday, Cory had just left one of many workshops trying to educate agriculturalists before the deadline hits.
The intricacies of the bill make it almost necessary to hire a specialist, like people do for their taxes, she said.
“I feel sorry for people,” Cory said. “I could quit my job and make a lot of money telling people how to comply to this rule. It’s a sad state of affairs putting these rules in place.”
Local trucking companies don’t need to declare their vehicles because they get no such extension.
Chuck Weimer, 58, of Columbia, has been in the trucking business for 37 years. The newest truck in his fleet is from 2008, but three of them are from the 1994 to 2000 range that requires them to be compliant by 2014.
Weimer’s C&D Trucking has five trucks for moving construction materials like rock, sand and gravel. He assisted in the building of local bypasses, and his trucks were there in 1997 when the river levees by Manteca broke.
But he doesn’t see a way out of these floodwaters.
“Yeah it’s going to affect me,” Weimer said. “It doesn’t warrant to put the money out. The fixes cost more than the trucks are worth.”
Given the state of the economy, Weimer said, he can’t replace his fleet, which makes the future of his company insecure.
“It doesn’t look good,” Weimer said. “I was kind of hoping to be able to retire with my business.”
The new regulations make it difficult not only on truckers, but on businesses in California that rely on trucks to get their products to market. California’s regulations put additional costs on businesses that could transfer those costs to customers, something that producers in other states with less stringent environmental laws don’t have to deal with.
In addition, it’s not fully clear how California will deal with trucks driving through that originate from other states without the retrofit requirements.
“It’ll be interesting to see how California can do interstate commerce and stop those trucks that don’t comply,” Gaiser said. “If they don’t do it, there will be a whole bunch of lawsuits.”