KERN COUNTY, Calif. (KERO) — Kern County is a leader in the agriculture and almond industry and we are just a few weeks away from harvesting season. But what many people might not realize, is the process to harvest almonds can have serious negative effects on our air quality.
Now farmers and air district control are trying to change that.
Clark Goehring has harvested almonds all his life. He owns Clark Goehring Farms up in Shafter, and he knows the ins and outs of farm life. That’s why he decided to upgrade to low-dust harvesters.
“During harvest season, this is all we do," he said. "It’s completely miserable, not only the surrounding but for the operators. You’re covered in dirt, and breathing it all the time, it’s not good.”
The dust kicked up by the shaking of trees and sweeping of orchards forms yet another health hazard for our farm workers. While today's methods may be less labor-intensive, it’s estimated that harvesting almonds kicks up about 41 pounds of dust per acre, which can lead to shortness of breath, a cough, and irritation in the respiratory system.
“I had one employee that developed a cough because this dust, you’re ingesting it all day long," Geohring said. "You can wear a mask all you can, but it’s a lot of dust.”
This is the reason the San Joaquin Valley Air District Control and the Almond Board of California made it one of their 2025 Goals to reduce dust during harvest by 50%.
“PM, as we call it, is the fine particles of dust that can wreak havoc on your health. And when you’re breathing that it in it can have all sorts of impacts on how you feel, if you’ve ever been around nut harvesting the large plums of dust are what we associate with that," said Heather Heinks with the Valley Air District.
With this new technology, the reduction in harvest dust is estimated to be around 40%. Ryan Delmanowski, the supervisor for the low-dust harvesting program, said many times it can be even more.
Not only is it better for the health of farmers and the air quality, but Goehring says making the switch saves time and money.
“Less dust, we’re faster, less wear and tear on the machines, and for our operators, it’s much more pleasant,” he said. “The main thing is the harvester because it has to pick them up and separate the dust, and what they’ve done is move from a chain to a twin rod which drops more dirt down”
Through the San Joaquin Valley Air District Control’s Low-Dust Harvesting program, farmers can apply to trade in their old harvesters and the program will pay 50% of the cost for a new low-dust harvester. This incentive funding can also be packaged with their Tractor Replacement funding to upgrade your tractor used to pull harvesting equipment.
Geohring said at the time he started this program, these harvesters were going for around $75,000 to $80,000.
The program is funded through a federal grant of $12.5 million and since February has received 150 applications, 40 of which have already been contracted.
Geohring says the process to get this equipment takes some time and while it may be too late to get a low dust harvester for this season, he says the new technology and valley air district's program is more than worth it and any farmer thinking ahead to next season, should begin the process now.