Thousands Trained in Renewable Energy and Effic...

Thousands Trained in Renewable Energy and Efficiency

Thousands Trained in Renewable Energy and Efficiency

Jar of biodiesel

As fossil-fuel prices rise across the country, farmers are feeling the pinch, especially in the economically hard-hit areas of the rural South. Too many tractor passes can break a year’s profits, as can the use of fans, machinery and other equipment running on expensive, non-renewable fuels.

Yet the South has been relatively slow to adopt renewable energy and efficiency measures, according to energy specialists in the region, in large part because of a lack of information and training. That started to change with a three-day training session that sent a ripple through ag educators in the South: Within a year, that one training, with 26 educators, led to 44 local events and the training of at least 2,600 farmers, ranchers and others in the latest renewable energy and efficiency technologies.

“We felt this train-the-trainer concept really fit the energy topic well, especially in the South,” says Mike Morris, an energy specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), which used a SARE grant to conduct the training. “These topics present a lot of economic opportunity for rural America.”

Conducted by Morris and Steve Moore, small-farm manager at North Carolina’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems, the training covered a wide range of topics, including biofuels, strategies for improving energy efficiency, wind and solar energy, and working with utilities and equipment suppliers, among other topics. Participants visited a wood burning biomass power plant, a solar water-heated greenhouse and an energy-efficient dairy, along with hands-on demonstrations with biofuel refining and solar equipment.

An emphasis was put on the sustainability of on-farm energy, particularly with biofuels, Morris says. “It was not just about producing bioenergy, but doing it in a way that protects soil and water.”

The training’s organizers encouraged participants to stay connected with each other and become expert resources for their extension colleagues and rural constituents on the many energy-related incentive programs available at the local, state and national level. For example, Alcorn State University Extension Specialist Elizabeth Myles attended the training to broaden her knowledge of sustainable-energy topics and build professional relationships. Now, equipped with a large repertoire of educational materials, she is planning to conduct two sustainable-energy workshops for Mississippi farmers in 2012 and more workshops in Alabama and Georgia.

Another long-term success: Morris points to a training graduate in Texas, Marion County Extension Agent Brock Fry, who began telling local farmers about USDA’s Rural Energy for America program, which provides grants and loans for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency projects. Applications to the program from Texas residents jumped from five or six per year to more than 30 last year, in large part because of this graduate’s efforts, Morris says.

“If I had my way, every county extension office would have at least basic information about the renewable-energy opportunities, incentives and programs available in their county,” Morris says. “That would have a huge impact, because most people don’t even know what’s available.”

Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) ES08-092, Energy Training for Agricultural Professionals in the Southern SARE Region .

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Location: Alabama | Georgia | South | Texas