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Farmers look to recycling to rid themselves of old almond trees

KBAK/KBFX photo

Three percent of Kern County's almond trees, almost 30,000 trees, are taken out every year.

Almond farmers would burn these trees openly in the fields, but the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District said this caused too much pollution, so it started making farmers take their dead trees to biomass incinerators.

A state tax subsidy made it cheap for farmer's to do that.

However, recently the state tax subsidy for these biomass incinerators went away, and now it's getting more expensive for growers to get rid of these trees.

"We paid to push the trees over, and we paid a little bit for the grinding. The truck was basically free because of the subsidy. Now it's getting very expensive and some of these places are shutting down, because they can't even run economically," said local almond grower Tom Frantz.

As a result of many of these incinerators closing down, the almond industry is looking at a new, natural way to get rid of the trees by turning them into tiny wood chips and returning the chips to the soil. Frantz said the almond tree has the ability to hold tons of carbon during it's 25-30 year life span and putting the carbon back into the ground will build up the soil and take CO2 out of the air.

"By returning those trees into the soil it's a win-win, because you're sequestering carbon into the soil, and you can build up the carbon in your soil for about 20 years until it gets into an equilibrium like you would find in a natural forest," said Frantz.

He said farmers would end up using less water and less artificial fertilizers, and in the long run it will help our environment.

"We are going to have cleaner air, because the biomass incinerators were some of the biggest polluters in Kern County, and the valley between here and Fresno there was three or four of them. They put out massive tons of fine particulate matter," said Frantz.

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