Farming is expensive. It takes lots of money and equipment to prepare the soil and plant crops. Believe it or not, many farmers of the most commonly grown crops in the U.S. can’t even afford the equipment to harvest them. They pay a contractor harvester to do so.
And only a tiny number of farmers actually transport their crops to market. The big trucks required are a huge investment. So by default or by choice, most farmers hire trucking company to haul their crops. Farms like Terra Firma, where we grow, harvest, pack, sell and deliver our own crops directly to our customers are very rare.
To transport high-quality fresh produce even a short distance requires a truck with insulated, refrigerated cargo box — essentially the most expensive type of vehicle on the road. Terra Firma has three “reefer” (not that kind of reefer) trucks. Most days two of them are making deliveries; the other is our “backup” truck for when one of the others is being serviced.
For many years, we and other small “direct to market” farms were able to buy older reefer trucks at a very reasonable price when larger companies updated their fleets. But twenty years ago, the state of California created new air quality rules that phased out older diesel trucks and required increasingly cleaner burning engines. Prices for compliant trucks doubled in a short period and ever since, there has been a shortage of trucks.
As a result, we have had to buy new delivery trucks while the old ones were still fully serviceable, selling them out of state or to Mexico for very little. Just this spring we got a notice from the DMV that our 2009 truck, which we now use only on the farm and as a backup for the two newer trucks, is now “prohibited”. They have begun fining us every month until we can show proof that we have destroyed the engine or sold the truck out of state.
So despite owning a perfectly functional truck, we are now forced to buy an expensive replacement. But this year the state also passed a regulation that will ban all diesel delivery trucks by 2035 and require replacement with zero emission trucks (ZETs).
It’s worth mentioning that ZETs the size of our delivery trucks do not currently exist anywhere, although they are in the works. And they will cost dramatically more than diesel trucks, although they cost much less to operate.
But if all diesel trucks will be banned in 10 years, I don’t want to buy another one. I would rather wait and buy an electric truck when they become available. In fact, I would love to have your produce delivered in a zero-emissions truck every day.
Unfortunately, that will be almost impossible any time soon. Grants and tax incentives from both the federal and state governments are focused on the largest trucking companies. This makes complete sense given that those companies are the largest polluters. But it means that they will buy up all the inventory of ZETs for years — in fact, they have placed pre-orders with the truck companies before the vehicles even exist.
So small “trucking companies” like Terra Firma get two short ends of the stick: we are prohibited from using our old, polluting trucks despite the fact that our overall contribution to air pollution and climate change is tiny. But we are also effectively excluded from the multi-million dollar tax subsidies available to larger companies.
Small businesses like ours already face a playing field that is far from level when competing with larger companies. It seems to me that the state could easily have easily designed a program to either specifically help small companies buy electric trucks, or to exempt them from the policies that apply to larger companies. Instead, they left us with higher costs and dirtier trucks.