Training in Renewable Energy Systems for Small Farms to Reduce Energy Costs and Improve Profitability

Final Report for ES13-117

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2013: $78,128.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: Clemson University
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoff Zehnder
Clemson University
Expand All

Project Information


South Carolina SARE Program stakeholders, including farmers, have identified a need for training in alternative energy systems that have potential to reduce energy costs and generate value for the farm. The goal of this SARE PDP project was to train agriculture professionals in South Carolina and neighboring states as Energy Educators. In both years of the project specific topics for the farm-energy training were identified based on stakeholder input, a training curriculum was developed, and nine (9) full-day training events were conducted to address perceived challenges to adoption of alternative farm energy systems. Participants rated each training highly in post-training surveys and indicated that their participation will enable them to effectively assist farmers/clients with adoption of renewable farm energy systems and technology.

Project Objectives:
  1. Identify perceived challenges pertaining to adoption of alternative energy systems through farmer surveys and additional stakeholder input.
  2. With cooperating stakeholders and instructors develop and promote a training curriculum and schedule of on-farm classes to demonstrate and evaluate alternative energy systems appropriate for small farms.
  3. Deliver the training curriculum to 1862 and 1890 Extension, NRCS, farmer mentors and other agriculture professionals utilizing farmer-instructors experienced in on-farm energy systems.
  4. Conduct follow-up surveys with training participants to assess their level of satisfaction with the training in order to refine the training curriculum, and to assess whether they are able to use the knowledge and skills gained to effectively assist farmers with implementation of alternative on-farm energy systems.

Small-scale farmers must find ways to reduce operating costs and identify new sources of revenue to give them a competitive edge in the marketplace.  On-farm energy production using natural processes combined with value added processing of waste products can help offset the increasing costs of petroleum based fuels and fertilizers and improve farm profitability. SC SARE Program stakeholders including farmers identified a need for training in alternative energy systems that have potential to reduce energy costs and generate value for the farm. Building upon the 2009 SARE-funded program entitled “Energy Training for Agricultural Professionals” (ENTAP), the goal of the project was to train Cooperative Extension agents, farmer mentors and other agriculture professionals in South Carolina and neighboring states as Energy Educators. The SC SARE Program collaborated with the Clemson Organic Farm, the Clemson BioSystems engineering Program, ENTAP program personnel, and stakeholders including farmers and 1890 and 1862 Extension to develop a training curriculum and a series of on-farm classes over two years to train participants in renewable energy and compatible value-added processing systems appropriate for small farms. The training focused on experiential learning to engage participants in demonstration and evaluation of pilot systems already in place at the Clemson Farm and on cooperating farms. We prepared these educators to lead training efforts in their own communities, helping local farmers to increase energy self-reliance, reduce their energy costs, and to provide them with information on how to create value-added products through bio-conversion of waste materials.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Edoe Agbodjan
  • Shawn Jadrnicek
  • Steve Moore
  • Charles Thornton
  • Karl Warkomski

Education & Outreach Initiatives



In 2014 six training events were conducted. The objective for the first project year was to conduct a total of four workshops to demonstrate systems in place at the Clemson Student Organic Farm. However based on stakeholder and participant demand an additional two workshops were conducted; one on use of permaculture design in farm planning, and one on renewable greenhouse heating and cooling systems.  The following workshops were conducted:

  • April 4: Black Soldier Fly Composting Systems
  • June 28: Using Permaculture Concepts in Farm Planning**
  • July 9: Efficient Use of High Tunnels for Season Extension Vegetable Production
  • July 10: Renewable and Low Cost Energy Systems for Small Farms
  • August 14: Production and Processing of Energy Crops for the Southeast
  • October 30: Efficient Greenhouse Heating and Cooling Systems

**Farmer participants in the permaculture workshop brought copies of their farm plans/maps and received one-on-one consulting and advice on energy-efficient layout and design of their farm operations.

In the second project year a total of three workshops were conducted on topics identified based on training participant surveys and from additional stakeholder input during the annual SC SARE Program Advisory Committee meeting.

  • May 18: Farm Scale Permaculture Design Workshop
  • May 28: Oil Seed Crops & On-Farm Processing of Edible and Non-Edible Oils
  • July 8: Make Your Own Biodiesel Production Workshop

Outreach and Publications

Clemson University Media Releases
Clemson awarded grant to bring renewable energy knowledge to farms
Fuels of the future taking center stage in the present
Harmless fly gaining fame among fans of sustainability

Clemson University Extension Fact Sheet
Herb Infused Oils

Example of workshop presentation (other Powerpoint presentations available upon request)
Production and Processing of Edible Oils


Outcomes and impacts:
  1. Perceived obstacles to implementation of alternative energy systems by farmers were identified which informed development of the training curriculum. Training events focused on specific solutions to critical challenges limiting farmer adoption. This equipped the training participants to advise farmers on how to integrate alternative energy strategies into their farm plans that would be practical and cost-effective for their individual farming operations. 
  2. Promotion of the on-farm energy training curriculum was widespread throughout the state. A schedule of classes was developed with program partners including  SC SARE Program stakeholders and South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program participants. Stakeholder engagement in planning generated tremendous interest in the energy training program and facilitated broad participation including from 1862 and 1890 Extension agriculture and horticulture agents, farmer educators,  and other agriculture professionals.
  3. As a result of the training events participants indicated that they were able to demonstrate improved awareness and competency in the design, operation and cost-effectiveness of these renewable and low cost energy systems. Results of surveys indicated that the participants were able to use the knowledge and skills gained from the training to effectively educate farmers on how to design and build low-cost, alternative energy systems.
  4. The project facilitated a network of Energy Educators who expressed interest in leading training efforts in their own communities, helping local farmers to increase energy self-reliance, reduce their energy costs, and create value-added products through bio-conversion of waste materials. The project collaborators and network of Energy Educators have stayed in touch via in person meetings, email and social media outlets

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Training instructors for both years of the project included project team members and outside regional experts on farm energy systems (see attached training announcements).  A total of 203 participants attended the training events including Extension agents, agricultural NGO and governmental organization representatives, farmers and farmer educators. In addition to classroom instruction, participants gained experience with design and/or operation of different energy systems at the Clemson Organic Farm and collaborating farms in the Lowcountry including the following systems and skills:

  • Black soldier fly waste composting system
  • Passive solar and hydronic greenhouse heating
  • Compost heating systems for high tunnels
  • Aquaponic greenhouse systems for high tunnels
  • Biodiesel production and oil seed processing (mobile biofuels laboratory)
  • Assessing available farm elements and resources in farm needs assessments
  • Creating a farm base map
  • Understanding how to assess land for proper drainage
  • Using azimuth and elevation angles for determining ideal crop growing locations
  • Energy efficient farm and home site design
  • Overview of oil-seed crops best adapted for southeastern climates
  • Oil-seed extraction techniques
  • Understanding regulatory guidelines for making and selling edible oils
  • Understanding biodiesel production basics and safety and hands-on biodiesel production
  • Post reaction processing and quality control testing in biodiesel production
  • Permaculture design components including native edible landscapes
  • Rainwater harvesting and diversion systems, and use of ponds to perform multiple functions on the farm (i.e., heat for greenhouses, fish production, habitat for beneficial organisms, etc.)

Examples of Training Announcements:



Potential Contributions

Results from workshop participant surveys over both years indicated that a majority of the participants rated the workshops in the ‘excellent’ category, and they felt that the knowledge and experience gained has or will enable them to effectively assist farmers/clients with development or adoption of renewable farm energy systems.  Here are examples of survey responses from Extension agents and other workshop participants:

  • “I was encouraged to press some sunflower oil with the Piteba hand press and test the market for sales. Very favorable customer response at our Saturday tailgate market. This leads to my planting a small crop of sunflowers this year to press and sell oil locally. I think this will lead to a larger cooperative effort with more farms in the future.”
  • “Helped me to assist grower with production of consumable oils & at the same time hi quality feed for their goats”
  • “will incorporate principles in upcoming farm buildings placement over next couple of years.”
  • "great ideas for sustainable production of fuel and farm products!"
  • “I have a greater understanding about manipulating environmental conditions within high tunnel systems.”
  • “I have a better understanding of various methods that can be used to produce crops in a high tunnel. Also the importance of not over fertilizing in a high-tunnel environment.”
  • “The workshop provided information I need to share with producers who plan to operate high tunnels.”
  • “I understand better how the ‘high tunnel’ system works and this will enable me to diagnose problems.”
  • “I can better answer questions related to high tunnels.”
  • “I have one interested client for whom I will be able to discuss much better the strategies possible with high tunnel production.”
  • “I gained an overall knowledge of high tunnel production and what is to be expected when a grower has one. I now feel more comfortable making recommendations and encouraging growers to go through the NRCS to obtain one.”
  • “I have encouraged farmers to use a soil sample as a part of the crop production plan in a high tunnel. One farmer's pH was low, and based on information from the workshop I encouraged him not to waste a tomato rotation on the low pH soil, but to apply lime, and be ready for next spring.”
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.