Energy Training for Agricultural Professionals in the Southern SARE Region

2009 Annual Report for ES08-092

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2008: $97,684.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Mike Morris
National Center for Appropriate Technology
Steve Moore
Center for Environmental Farming Systems

Energy Training for Agricultural Professionals in the Southern SARE Region


The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) trained agriculture professionals from the Southern SARE Region as Energy Educators. Participants were chosen by a competitive application process, to participate in an intensive three-day course that included classroom training and hands-on experience. After successfully completing this training, these educators led training efforts in their own communities, helping farmers and rural landowners manage their energy resources profitably and sustainably. Course graduates also developed a network for energy-related communication and support.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. At least 25 agricultural educators will complete an intensive three-day course of training and will be certified as Agricultural Energy Specialists. Extension Agents and Specialists, as well as field staff members from any USDA agency, are eligible to apply. Training topics will include energy efficient farming systems, biofuels, biopower, solar, and wind energy.

    Course graduates will be able to refer producers to appropriate avenues of funding and technical assistance for their energy-related projects.

    Course graduates will be able to conduct a basic farm energy audit.

    Course graduates will understand and be able to implement strategies for sustainable biofuel crop production, including reducing soil and water-related impacts.

    Course graduates will stay in touch with each other and will provide mentoring and mutual support, as members of a continuing network of Agricultural Energy Specialists.

    Course graduates will be supported by their supervisors and offices, enabling them to deliver energy training and technical assistance to agricultural producers and other state and local professional colleagues.

    By the end of this two-year project, course graduates will be involved in organizing at least 15 local or regional energy training events.

    By the end of this two-year project, course graduates will assist at least 75 farms within the Southern SARE region in incorporating renewable energy into their operations, improving their energy efficiency, and developing energy-related economic enterprises.


Training Preparations

In early 2009 we publicized our Energy Training for Agriculture Professionals program widely via Southern SARE and Extension networks. We posted announcements on the websites of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), as well as in ATTRA News, Weekly Harvest, and other newsletters. NCAT sent press releases to over 100 agricultural and energy organizations, educators, advocates, and newspapers.

During 2009 our Steering Committee of 29 advisors—including educators and agricultural producers from throughout the Southern SARE region—held six meetings by teleconference in January, March, April, June, August, and October. We shared articles, ideas, and meeting notes through a web-based collaborative workspace (Basecamp) for team members. Throughout the year we added many educational materials to the project website:

We surveyed project team members about high priority information needs in their states. We reviewed the results from a national survey of Cooperative Extension personnel, about their energy-related information needs. Mike Morris and Leif Kindberg of NCAT also attended a June 30-July 1, 2009 conference on “The Role of Extension in Energy,” in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Application Process

We made application materials available in mid-February, with an application deadline of April 30, 2009. We received 69 applications, from all 13 states in the Southern SARE region as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 10 of these applications came from 1890 Land Grant schools. Our Steering Committee was very helpful in finding us good participants.

We accepted 29 applicants, including at least one from each of the 13 states in the Southern SARE region. Successful applicants were notified in late May. Two people declined our offer, and one other person had to cancel at the last minute, so we ended up training 26 people from the following 12 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

One other person from the state of Missouri attended as an observer, and paid all of his own expenses. Twenty-five of the 26 participants were extension employees. One person attended from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

This was a highly diverse group, including young agents, well-established university researchers, and everything in between. Four 1890 Land Grant schools were represented: Alcorn State, Fort Valley State, Langston, and Virginia State. We also accepted an applicant from Tuskegee University, but he was unable to attend. Four participants were women.

Participants had research and personal interests in biodiesel, ethanol, gasification, anaerobic digestion, energy efficiency in poultry operations, solar energy, wind energy, youth programming, and growing energy crops such as canola, switchgrass and sorghum.

Successful applicants all made a compelling case that they would serve and train a large number of agricultural producers, and included a supervisor’s letter of commitment. Several participants emphasized their commitment to supporting small, beginning, and limited-resource farmers.


Twenty-six agricultural educators completed our intensive three-day training September 30-October 1, 2009 at Cherry Research Farm, home of CEFS, in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

Tuition, materials, lodging, meals, and all travel-related expenses were paid for participants. Since Goldsboro is over 70 miles from the nearest airport (in Raleigh-Durham), a lot of planning was required to get everyone to and from the training, as well as shuttling them back and forth between Cherry Farm and the hotel.

We had 15 guest speakers, along with three speakers from NCAT and CEFS. We started searching and inviting speakers six months before the training, to find and attract the best possible speakers. We offered a modest honorarium to all speakers, although only about half of them accepted these offers. The quality of the presentations was generally very high.

The curriculum included five main topics: biofuels, energy-efficient farming systems, solar energy, biopower, and wind energy. Most participants also took advantage of an optional tour of a local biopower facility, Craven County Wood Energy, near New Bern, North Carolina. All participants also toured Cherry Research Farm, and got a chance to see many innovative energy-related projects taking place on the farm, including a solar water-heated greenhouse.

The theme of sustainability ran through the entire training, most obviously in the presentations on Energy Efficient Farming Systems. We also used biodegradable flatware and paper products, served an all-local-food dinner Thursday night, and introduced the farmers who had grown the food for our meal.

The training included a strong hands-on component. For example, all participants made a small batch of biodiesel on the first afternoon of the training. All participants got a chance to see and handle many kinds of energy-related equipment, including solar electric (photovoltaic) panels, solar thermal collectors, small wind turbines, and new lighting technologies such as cold cathode and LED. Each participant received a “Kill-a-Watt” meter, enabling them to measure their own personal or office energy consumption. We also invited local farmer Julian Barham to talk about his firsthand experiences owning and managing an anaerobic digester.

Although most of the talks were highly practical, some speakers touched on theoretical issues. For example, keynote speaker Simon Rich gave a presentation called “Energy and Food: Linkages for a Sustainable Future.”

Participants completed both pre-training and post-training questionnaires. Overall, they scored the training an average of 4.7 out of 5. Participants also reported a very significant increase in their own knowledge. Before the training, participants rated their knowledge about a list of energy topics at an average of 2.1 out of 5.0. At the end of the training, they rated their knowledge at an average of 3.9.

Most people checked nearly all the “behavioral change” boxes on our post-training evaluation, saying they plan to do many or all of the following:

* Refer clients to avenues of funding for their energy-related projects

* Refer clients to appropriate avenues of technical assistance for their energy-related projects

* Deliver energy training and technical assistance to agricultural producers

* Deliver energy training and technical assistance to state and local professional colleagues

* Pursue specialized skill training or certification, such as conducting energy audits or wind or solar site assessments and installation

* Stay in touch with other course participants for mentoring and mutual support

* Implement strategies for sustainable biofuel crop production, e.g. reducing soil and water impacts

The most common criticism (from a few) was that there was not enough time for networking.

After the training, all participants received a flash drive that included all of the training presentations and many other educational materials, publications, and tools. These resource materials covered topics in far more detail than was possible during the three days of the training. Almost all of the presentations from the training have been posted to the website. The entire training was also videotaped, and some of the presentations are being edited for posting on the Internet.

What Work Is Left to Do?

With a successful training behind us, our attention now turns to strengthening and expanding the network of Energy Educators that we have created. The project was originally scheduled to end March 31, 2010, but we have received a no-cost extension until September 30, 2010.

During 2010, we will

* facilitate communication, networking, and mentoring among trainees;

* create and making available additional educational materials and resources;

* hold two follow-up teleconferences for participants, gathering feedback that will help us understand barriers encountered in the field;

* conduct an external evaluation of the project; and

* complete final reporting.

Our trainees now begin the important work of conducting energy-related training efforts in their own communities. We will track the energy-related activities of course graduates, awarding certificates to those who complete the requirements needed to become certified as Energy Educators.

We will continue posting educational materials to the ENTAP and ATTRA websites, as well as keeping people in touch with each other through the project listserve. We hope to conduct one or more webinars and also to create one or more videos for participants.

We will also attempt to raise funds for additional energy training courses, with the goal of expanding the network of Energy Educators trained and linked through this program.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

A network of 26 well-trained Energy Educators is now in place, assisting agricultural producers throughout the Southern SARE Region in managing their energy resources profitably and sustainably.

Already by the end of 2009, course graduates had conducted a number of local and regional energy training events. These events and impacts will be summarized in our final report.

A curriculum has been created and posted to the Energy Training for Agriculture Professionals website ( and linked to NCAT’s ATTRA website. This curriculum can be used or adapted for subsequent trainings, and is available for free downloading.

A variety of checklists, fact sheets, and tools have been created and posted to and NCAT’s ATTRA website.

Many other resource materials have been created for agricultural producers and educators in the Southern SARE region, providing background on a wide range of energy-related topics


Paul Mueller
CALS Coordinator for Sustainable Agriculture
NC State University
P.O. Box 7620
Raleigh, NC 2769-5855
Office Phone: 9195155825
Leif Kindberg
Program Specialist
National Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 3657
207 West Center Street
Fayetteville, AR 72701
Office Phone: 4794429824
John O’Sullivan
Cooperative Extension Program Marketing Specialist
NC A&T State University
PO Box 21928
Greensboro, NC 27420
Office Phone: 3363347956
Al Kurki
Program Specialist
National Center for Appropriate Technology
P.O. Box 3838
3040 Continental Drive
Butte, MT 59702
Office Phone: 4064944572
Rachel Burton
Director, Laboratory and Quality
Piedmont Biofuels
220 Lorax Lane
Pittsboro, NC 27312
Office Phone: 9193218260
Steve Moore
Assistant to the Director (Farm Manager)
Center for Environmental Farming Systems
201 Stevens Mill Rd
Goldsboro, NC 27530
Office Phone: 9197313440