California farmers get Federal help replacing old machinery

California farmers and ranchers will get $24 million in 2011 to replace aging diesel machines as part of an ongoing effort to improve air quality, federal officials said Monday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture program splits in half the cost of buying new, cleaner-running farm engines and equipment.

In the past two years, the program has replaced 814 old tractors and other farm equipment, and reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide -- a key component of smog -- by 1,349 tons.

That amount is equivalent to removing 408,000 cars from California highways, said Ed Burton, state conservationist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Demand for the program has overwhelmed available funding over the past two years. During that time, the NRCS received more than 5,000 applications to replace diesel engines but was able to fund only 814, at a cost of $43.4 million.

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