Energy - Small Farm Sustainability

Final Report for LNE02-163

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $88,548.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $43,941.00
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Nancy Nylen
CET (Center for Ecological Technology)
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Project Information

Summary:

The “Energy and Small Farm Sustainability” project featured research, implementation, and showcasing of viable energy efficiency measures and renewable energy projects for farms in western Massachusetts. Center for Ecological Technology (CET) staff members and consultants developed methodologies to evaluate the potential use of renewable energy technologies and helped farms install renewable energy systems by providing information and assistance regarding siting, sizing equipment and obtaining financing. CET conducted a variety of outreach activities highlighting ways that energy efficiency and renewable energy can be beneficial to farms seeking a more sustainable approach to agriculture, including farm tours, workshops, presentations, fact sheets and information posted on our website. We also provided assistance to farms interested in installing monitoring equipment to 1) measure the potential for wind power and 2) track solar energy system performance, and 3) make data available on the internet for other farms and the general public. Our initial target group was dairy farms and orchards, but we worked with SARE to expand our scope to serve other farmers as well. Among the renewable energy technologies we researched and/or demonstrated were solar energy, wind power and methane digestion.

Introduction:

Traditionally, farmers used local, renewable energy sources and technologies to power activities, such as wind to pump water and wood to heat their buildings. Current dependence on expensive, polluting and non-renewable resources, such as oil, coal, and natural gas causes environmental degradation such as acid rain and climate change that have short and long-term impacts on farming. In western Massachusetts most of the energy currently used by farms is imported and increasingly expensive, leaving farmers in this region who are already under extreme financial pressures, vulnerable to the economic as well as environmental impacts associated with energy use. The hypothesis we researched was whether viable options exist for New England farms to increase access to dependable, clean renewable energy – thereby allowing farms to be more profitable, manage resources wisely, and have a positive influence on their communities and environment.

Through the “Energy and Small Farm Sustainability” project CET staff, consultants and project partners researched and helped more than 30 farmers in western Massachusetts 1) identify and implement cost-effective opportunities to conserve energy, save money and increase production; 2) develop methodologies to assess farms for renewable resource development; and/or 3) identify and implement strategies to install energy saving measures and renewable energy systems, including sizing equipment and obtaining cost-effective financing. CET showcased demonstration projects through workshops, presentations, farm tours, press releases and information posted on the web.

CET initially targeted dairy farms and orchards in the Berkshire region of western Massachusetts. Dairy farms and orchards have the potential to produce wind power and solar energy on their largely unforested tracts of land and hillsides. Both groups depend on reliable electricity for their operations. Furthermore, when we began the project the Northeast Dairy Compact had not been renewed, and dairy farmers were finding that their revenues were lower than the cost of production. Under these conditions, every dollar saved through efficiency or investment in renewable energy would be beneficial to farmers.

CET and U-Mass Extension established an advisory committee that consisted of a major dairy farmer, the head of the MA Farm Bureau, the owner of a local orchard, a farmer who also works for a local electric utility company on energy efficiency programs, and representatives from the Department of Food and Agriculture and Berkshire Grown. To increase convenience, we agreed to hold telephone meetings and communicate electronically as feasible. With these advisors on board, we were able to develop protocols and services that would meet farmers’ needs.

Through initial research and conversations with farmers, we learned that energy costs were not a major concern because they represented a small percentage of farmers’ overall expenses. Farmers were interested, however, in the additional benefits that energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems offered. For example, energy efficient lighting and plate coolers not only saved money but were linked to higher milk production and variable speed vacuum pumps resulted in decreased noise and improved working conditions. Several renewable energy options had the potential to address problems associated with environmental compliance on the farm. Methane digestion, for example, could generate electricity and also help solve the problem of manure management facing dairy farmers. Solar fencing had the potential to keep animals out of streams. In addition, solar technology could help expand farm operations by powering remote fencing or water pumping or providing electricity for a greenhouse.

CET and project partners were able to help several farms identify and implement energy conservation and efficiency improvements and install and/or monitor the potential for renewable energy systems. Originally the project was estimated to last for two years, but we found that renewable energy projects required more time than initially anticipated to conduct education and outreach, evaluate specific sites, obtain quotes, secure financing and install systems. In addition, a rise in energy prices and new grant opportunities during the second and third year of the project, led to increased cost effectiveness of energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installations. All three farms that installed a renewable energy system during the course of the grant period installed a solar energy system. Additional farms are in various stages of monitoring and design of small-scale wind and methane digestion.

Providing information and services to farmers interested in technologies that are beneficial to the farmers, their community and the environment has been extremely rewarding and educational. As a result of direct and indirect impacts of rising energy costs on the economic viability of farms, and heightened awareness and concern about global warming, CET continues to receive requests for information and technical assistance regarding the role that sustainable energy can have on sustainable agriculture. We are exploring ways to continue serving farmers interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Performance Target:

Of the approximately 56 dairy farms and 16 orchards in the Berkshire area, 25 farms will have an energy efficiency assessment, including an analysis of existing energy end use and recommendations for conservation measures.

Early on we realized that our proposed performance targets were based on outdated information about the numbers of dairy farms in our region. When we sent out our first mailing, we learned that there were only 35 dairy farms and less than 10 orchards, which was only 60% of the number in our original database. We are pleased to report that CET provided program services to over 33 farms in western Massachusetts. Of those, 22 farms received an energy efficiency audit. We continued to focus activities in the Berkshires, but accepted requests for assistance from farms other than dairy and orchards, and expanded our territory to include the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts as time and resources permitted.

Of those who receive an energy assessment, 25 farmers will install efficiency improvements with a 1-year payback. A total of 15 farms installed energy improvements with a 1-2 year payback. Again, the total reflects the smaller population of farms in our area than we had planned for in our original proposal. Energy efficiency lighting represented the majority of energy improvements with a 1-2 year payback period.

5-10 farmers will make significant energy efficiency improvements. A total of seven farms invested in significant energy efficiency improvements. These measures included insulation, air sealing, and installation of a variable frequency drive for milking equipment.

3-5 farms will participate in a renewable energy resource assessment, which may require additional monitoring (e.g. wind capacity or sun power). 15 farms participated in a renewable energy assessment, evaluating solar, wind and/or methane digestion. Three farms installed wind monitoring equipment and are currently evaluating the potential for wind power to provide electricity for their farms. An additional farm has received funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC) to evaluate building integrated photovoltaics for a new farm building and another has received planning and pre-development funding from MTC for methane digestion. Biogas, the byproduct of digestion, would be used to generate electricity and heat.

Of those who are evaluated for renewable resource potential, 1-3 farms will install small-scale renewable demonstration projects. Three farms installed solar photovoltaic systems: Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Gould Farm in Monterey and Howden Farm in Sheffield. Further detail about those farms is provided below.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ruth Dinerman
  • Richard Drury
  • Nick Hiza
  • Amy Johns
  • David Knowles
  • Cathy Roth
  • Chris Vreeland

Research

Materials and methods:

The approach we used was to perform research, conduct outreach and education and provide technical assistance. Our methods and materials are described below.

Research: Initially CET staff members researched the energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy technologies that would be most beneficial to dairy farmers and orchards in the Berkshire region. In addition to literature and internet research, we contacted individuals from the Northeast experienced in working to reduce energy costs and install renewable energy systems on farms. Several staff members visited working farms to learn about the technologies first-hand. We visited Foster Brothers Farm in Middlebury, Vermont and the Freund farm in Canaan, Connecticut to learn about methane digestion and composting operations.
Education and Outreach

Media: Education began with the announcement of the SARE grant in the spring of 2002 and continued throughout the grant period. In addition to press releases about specific events, several publications printed informative articles about the potential for farms to produce their own “energy crop” along with their other produce. Among those were:

The Advocate, May 15, 2002 - “CET to work with farms and orchards on energy efficiency”

Farm and Market Report, MA Department of Food and Agriculture, August/September, 2002 – “Project to Assist Berkshire Farms with Energy Efficiency”

Berkshire Trade and Commerce, October 2002 – “Giving Farmers the Power to Control Costs: Energy efficiency is focus of new sustainable agriculture program”

Berkshire Food & Land Notes, the Newsletter of the Berkshire Grown Community, Winter 2003 – “An Energizing New Berkshire Crop: CET and Mass Agroecology Team up to Explore Alternative Energy on the Farm”

SARE 2006/07: Practical New Ideas in Agriculture, May 2006 - “Farmers Turn on to Renewable Energy and Conservation”

Sheffield Land Trust Newsletter, Winter 2006 - “Solar Power at Howden Farm”

Greening the Farm Series: Advisory Committee members recommended that farm tours would be an effective and valuable way to give farmers first-hand information about efficient equipment and renewable energy systems. Tours, briefly described below, were offered at three locations, and were extremely well attended and received positive comments.

1. High Lawn Farm, Lee – November 4, 2002. The first program was held at a dairy farm with approximately 300 Jersey cows and a creamery that still distributes its own product to local stores and over 1200 households. The tour highlighted examples of energy efficient equipment recently installed at the dairy such as plate coolers and variable frequency drive motors for milking equipment. CET and representatives from local utility companies and government agencies presented information about technical assistance and financing opportunities.

2. Caretaker Farm, Williamstown – May 15, 2003. The second tour took place at Caretaker Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture farm with approximately 200 members. Highlighted on the tour were solar panels used to provide electricity for remote fencing and water pumping that enabled Caretaker to expand their grazing operations.

3. Bartlett’s Orchard, Richmond – July 19, 2004. Bartlett’s Orchard hosted the third tour, where four generations have been growing apples on 52 acres of land, and there is a 30 year old farm store where they sell apples and baked goods. Energy efficient light fixtures and motors were highlighted on the tour. In addition, farmers were invited to tour neighbor Stephen Congdon’s home to see ground-mounted solar photovoltaic arrays.

Additional Education and Outreach events promoted to farmers:

1. Methane Digestion Information Session, Pine Island Farm, Sheffield – February 4, 2003. David Ludington, professor emeritus of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Cornell University discussed how methane digestion works, what makes it successful for a dairy farm and critical issues surrounding the evolving technology.

2. Wind Energy for Homes and Farms, Pittsfield – November 29, 2005. Sally Wright, PE, University of Massachusetts Renewable Energy Research Laboratory described how wind turbines work, what is a good site, what are the zoning and permitting issues and what financial incentives are available.

3. Solar celebration at Howden Farm, Sheffield – April 24, 2006. Howden Farm, 250 acres of agricultural land, nestled in the floodplain of the Housatonic River and glorious views of Mount Everett and the surrounding mountains, held an event to celebrate installation of a 1.1 kilowatt solar electric system that will power drip irrigation for pick-your-own-raspberries, blueberries and potentially for some pumpkin fields. The ground-mounted solar panels and interconnection to the local utility were explained. Congressman John Olver attended, along with local farmers, public officials, agency representatives and contractors who installed the system.

4. Solar Energy for Your Business, Pittsfield – May 24, 2006. Co-sponsored by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, this workshop provided information about the basics of solar energy, components of solar electric and solar hot water systems, how to determine whether you have a good site, financial incentives, and how to gain additional benefits through energy efficient improvements. Several farmers attended the workshop and requested follow-up visits to evaluate solar and wind potential on their farms.

5. Solar Energy for Farms and Greenhouses, Riverland Farm, Sunderland – July 26, 2006. CET participated in an informational panel about solar energy sponsored by UMass Extension. The title of Nancy Nylen’s presentation was “Getting Started, Getting Funded, Getting Power”.

Promotion of the events: We promoted the tours through direct mail, email and press releases to local newspapers. In addition to those who attended the event, the publicity increased visibility of the project and resulted in requests for information and assistance from local farms. surrounding the event.
Technical Assistance

CET staff and project partners provided technical assistance to farmers to help them evaluate the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy on their farms, and inform them about local contractors and financial incentives available from utility companies and the state and federal government. The following is a list and brief description of the technical assistance provided.

Site visits: Consultants David Knowles, Richard Drury and Chris Vreeland conducted site visits to evaluate opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable energy at participating farms.
Consultants prepared reports summarizing their findings and recommending next steps.

Research for farmers: CET staff members and project consultants conducted research for farmers interested in a variety of technologies, including solar energy for water pumping, irrigation, greenhouse ventilation, and domestic hot water, micro-hydro and geothermal energy.

Assistance locating funding: CET staff members provided information about funding opportunities and worked closely with farmers to obtain grants, financing and utility and tax incentives to install energy efficiency measures and renewable energy systems.

Monitoring equipment: CET worked with Conservation Services Group to obtain monitoring equipment to track the performance of solar PV systems installed at Brookfield Farm, Gould Farm, and Howden Farm. Data is available online at www.soltrex.com. In addition, CET researched low-cost monitoring equipment to evaluate the wind resource at farms. We obtained anemometers from NRG in Vermont to install at farms to record wind data for a year or more. These anemometers are still in place at three farms and will continue to be made available to farms after the end of the grant period. CET staff conducted infrared scanning to evaluate the quality of thermal improvements, such as air sealing and insulation at farm locations. This service, as well, will continue to be available to farms following the close of the grant period.

Written materials - Fact Sheets (printed and available on the CET website):
Energy Efficient Lighting
Plate Coolers
Variable Speed Drives
Solar Hot Water
WMECO Incentives for Farms
MECO Incentives for Farms

Research results and discussion:

Energy Efficiency: During first three years of the grant period, twenty-two farms received an energy efficiency assessment, including an analysis of existing energy end use and recommendations for conservation measures. A total of fifteen farms installed energy improvements with a 1-2 year payback; the majority installed energy efficient lighting in barns, farmhouses and retail space. The percentage of area farms that requested energy services exceeded our expectations. The percentage of farms that would install low-cost measures, however, was slightly less than projected. We had originally anticipated that 100% of those who received an energy assessment would install energy saving measures. However, to-date we are aware that 68% have installed energy efficiency measures with a short payback period. We learned that we were unrealistic in our original projection, as it required time and money for farmers to obtain even those measures with a short-term payback. Had we been able to provide measures at no cost to farmers at the time of the energy evaluation, we believe that we would have achieved close to 100% participation.

A total of seven farms invested in significant energy efficiency improvements estimated to save farmers hundreds to thousands of dollars. The number of farms was consistent with our initial projections. An unanticipated outcome was that farmers invested in thermal vs. electrical energy efficiency measures. The energy and money saving measures included insulation, air sealing, and in only one case the installation of a variable frequency drive for milking equipment. We expect, however, that farmers are now more aware of the benefits of variable frequency drives and energy efficient motors and will invest in those improvements when replacing aging equipment.
Renewable Energy: Over the course of four years, our goal of reaching 3-5 farms was far exceeded; as15 farms participated in a renewable energy assessment, evaluating solar, wind and/or methane digestion. We are extremely pleased to report that three farms installed solar photovoltaic systems: Brookfield Farm in Amherst, Gould Farm in Monterey and Howden Farm in Sheffield and at least five additional farms are continuing to explore the feasibility of installing solar, methane digestion or wind power.

During the first three years of the project, the majority of interest was in solar energy and methane digestion. As noted earlier in the report, rising energy costs rose significantly during the third year of the project and the increased cost of electricity coincided with advances in small-scale wind technology. During the fourth year of the project several farmers expressed interest in monitoring wind on their property. We acquired and helped farmers install anemometers and three farms are currently evaluating the potential for wind power to provide electricity for their farms.

We reached farmers primarily through direct mail and media promotion of the SARE grant and “Greening of the Farm” tours. At each event we had a sign-up sheet and provided contact information in all correspondence and press releases. During the latter part of the project we received requests through word-of-mouth and from farmers conducting web-searches.

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

As noted in the Methods and Materials section (#4), outreach and education were a primary focus of the Energy and Small Farm Sustainability project. We produced several fact sheets that were distributed at workshops and tours and posted on our website. Copies of the fact sheets are included in the appendix. They are also available for downloading on the CET website: http://www.cetonline.org/FarmBusiness/for_your_farm_or_business.htm

In addition to direct mail and email invitations, we distributed press releases to local media to promote our workshops and farm tours.

No milestones

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

CET and project partners reached over 100 farmers through workshops and presentations. We provided direct services to over thirty farms in the form of site visits, installation of monitoring equipment and assistance installing energy efficiency measures or renewable energy systems.
Through press releases, newspapers, newsletters, business and agricultural publications, we reached thousands of individuals, resulting in increased awareness of the role of energy efficiency and renewable energy in sustainable agriculture.

Farms that have installed energy efficiency improvements have saved money and in several instances improved the quality of their work environment. By installing compact fluorescent bulbs, several farms have been able to increase their light levels while using less energy. Randy Jordan reported that by installing his variable frequency drive for his milking equipment, he is saving almost $5000 per year and the pump is much quieter. According to Randy, “it’s possible when the thing is running to work in the office where the equipment is and to talk on the phone.”

The farms that have installed solar systems have been active in educating the public about renewable energy technology, how it works and its benefits to the environment and economy. Brookfield Farm in Amherst raised awareness about their system when they reached out to their members and successfully obtained the balance of funds needed for their solar system. The solar panels at Gould Farm in Monterey are mounted on the Harvest Barn, which is also the site of their public farm stand. Gould Farm held a press conference when the solar panels were installed and participated in the regional Green Buildings Open House in October 2005. The solar celebration at Howden Farm in April 2006 was widely publicized, and as a u-pick pumpkin and berry farm with a Bed & Breakfast, they educate visitors daily about their commitment to sustainable energy and agriculture. Local school children have visited the farm to study local agriculture and solar energy.

Monitoring equipment was installed at all three farm sites with solar photovoltaic systems, and farmers and the general public can obtain up-to-date information about the performance of the solar systems on the internet: www.soltrex.com. Included on the Soltrex site is a brief description of the location and system, graphs with electrical output and information about environmental benefits, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from their systems.

Economic Analysis

Not applicable.

Farmer Adoption

The long-term contributions of the project for beneficiaries, in terms of farm profitability, environmental stewardship and a stronger community are likely most significant for those who invested time and resources evaluating and adopting sustainable energy practices. These farmers will not only benefit from their participation in the project, but they have and will continue to inspire other farmers to consider sustainable energy practices.

As previously noted, several farmers have installed energy efficiency and renewable energy systems as a result of this project. Outstanding among the farmers who benefited from the project and contributed to our understanding of the barriers and solutions to adopting sustainable energy practices are the following:

Brookfield Farm in Amherst, where the CSA members were asked to support the solar installation, and responded quickly and positively. They are realizing financial savings and a stronger sense of community.

Howden Farm in Sheffield, where they had developed a stewardship plan for the farm that had previously focused on land use and now includes a comprehensive consideration of energy use. They have reduced energy use, invested in solar energy and are now investigating the feasibility of wind power. They have a strong commitment to community and education as well, and are enthusiastic about sharing their experience with others.

Jordan Dairy Farm in Rutland, where they have achieved significant financial savings through investment in energy efficiency and improved working conditions due to quieter motors. They are estimating a savings of $5000 per year as a result of installing a variable frequency drive for their milking equipment.

Pine Island Dairy Farm, Sheffield, has applied for and received funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for planning and pre-development of a methane digestion system that will produce electricity and heat. They, along with other dairy farmers in Massachusetts, are struggling to stay in business, and are hopeful that this technology will contribute to their financial viability.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Farms continue to be extremely interested in adopting sustainable energy practices that will improve their financial viability, and are consistent with the goals of sustainable agriculture and land stewardship. However, it is difficult for many farmers to find the time to research appropriate technology and to afford the upfront cost of investing in significant energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy systems. Over the course of the Energy and Small Farm Sustainability project, investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy became more cost effective for farmers, as their cost of electricity and heating rose and there were increased financial incentives in the form of grants and tax incentives. However, it was often difficult for farmers to take advantage of many of the financial incentives. Many farmers are unable to take advantage of tax credits because they have little tax liability. Others have little time to fill out complex grant applications. And, in the case of rebate programs for small-scale wind or solar, many are unable to front the money until the time of reimbursement.

We believe that farmers would benefit from a service that provided basic technical assistance in evaluating opportunities for sustainable energy practices, pursuing funding opportunities, completing grant applications where appropriate, and complying with grant requirements. We have also found that farm tours demonstrating appropriate technology are effective ways for farmers to learn from each other and hope to pursue funding to provide these services to farmers on an on-going basis.

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.