Leading the Way to Energy Independence
Roger Rainville is ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing costs on his 300-acre dairy farm near Alburgh, Vt. Rainville started growing canola for biofuel in 2005, and now he's producing biodiesel for about $1.70 a gallon, and fueling his farm with it. Those savings, and his profit margin, are going to be even greater if energy and fuel prices continue to rise as they have recently.
What's more, one of Rainville's main goals is to share profitable farming strategies with his neighbors: For years he has been partnering with University of Vermont Extension Specialist Heather Darby to turn his farm into a research and demonstration site for energy production, cover crops and reduced tillage. Many of these efforts have been funded by SARE.
"We're showing ourselves that we can do things differently than we've been doing them," Rainville says.
To learn more about Rainville's innovative work with biofuels and soil management, check out this 16-minute video recently produced by SARE and Cooking Up a Story, in which Rainville discusses in depth his biodiesel production.
Rainville is examining every step of the biodiesel process-raising the canola, extracting the oil, using the byproducts, refining the fuel-in order to find strategies that are more efficient, and therefore more cost effective. He estimates it costs $135 per acre to raise canola.
Along with the thousands he expects to save by producing his own fuel, canola comes with two additional financial benefits. He uses canola straw as bedding for his 50 dairy replacement heifers, which adds a $200 per acre value in straw he does not have to buy. Also, he can pelletize canola meal after the oil is pressed out and sell it locally as protein-rich cattle feed, worth $350-$400 per ton.
In addition to his work with biofuels, Rainville serves as chairman of the Farmer's Watershed Alliance (FWA), a local nonprofit that helps farmers implement economically viable strategies to protect water quality. Under his and Darby's leadership, the group launched an initiative that increased the amount of cover crops planted in two local watersheds from 100 acres in 2006 to 1,500 acres in 2008. The project includes demonstrating best management practices for reduced tillage and no-till.