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Clean Energy Farming

Cows in a pasture with wind turbines behind them

Pasturing cows, harvesting wind: two big energy savers. Photo by Troy Bishopp

Missouri farmer Dan West found a solution for the waste fruit that remained after harvest: He distills it into clean-burning, high-octane fuel to power his farm equipment. New Mexico farmer Don Bustos uses recycled solar panels to heat a new greenhouse, extending his season and nearly eliminating sky-high fossil fuel bills that were threatening his family’s 400-year-old farm. With high-efficiency irrigation, rancher Rick Kellison avoids expensive and energy-intensive pumping from Texas’ ever-lowering Ogallala Aquifer.

Across the country, as energy prices climb, farmers and ranchers are turning more and more to clean energy practices. From energy-saving light bulbs to solar panels to fuel grown and processed on the farm, farmers are making their operations more profitable, efficient and cleaner. In the process, they are helping the nation. Generating renewable energy and using fossil fuels more efficiently reduces dependence on foreign oil, providing greater local and national energy security. It also curbs global warming pollution and offers new economic opportunities for communities. In short, clean energy practices are quickly becoming core to the operations of farmers and ranchers across America.

Clean Energy Farming explores this emerging trend in agriculture and explains how farmers can:

  • improve energy efficiency while saving money;
  • implement farming practices that both save energy and protect natural resources; and
  • produce and use renewable energy.

For example, Bustos’ solar-heated greenhouse can eliminate most fossil fuel costs. Energy audits, such as those recently performed on 25 farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, revealed potential total savings of almost $115,000 annually for the participating farmers.

Field of canola

Maine canola grown for biofuel. Photo by Peter Sexton

While energy efficiency measures are generally the fastest and cheapest way to reduce energy-related costs, many farmers are now turning to their land and operations to generate renewable energy.

Recently, much national attention has focused on corn ethanol. Yet other renewable types of energy, such as solar, wind and fuels from animal waste or other energy crops, also offer many opportunities to reduce fuel costs and increase energy self-sufficiency on the farm. As an added bonus, these energy sources can generate extra income through sales of surplus and offer a more sustainable alternative to energy-intensive corn.

As with all agricultural practices, renewable energy production will vary widely by region. For example, a wide variety of oilseed crops for biodiesel show excellent promise in the Pacific Northwest and Northeastern states, while switchgrass, a high-yielding and relatively easy-to-grow crop, and potential fuel feedstock, appears very well suited to the South and Midwest. As the clean energy industry grows, farmers will be able to tap into their local resources – soil, wind and water – to find the best energy sources for their area. It’s safe to say that it is no longer a question of if or when, but how this country will transition to cleaner energy sources. Clean Energy Farming highlights research and examples of farmers and ranchers who are successfully transitioning toward energy systems that are profitable, demonstrate good stewardship of America’s land and water, and benefit their operations and communities.

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