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

Project Overview

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

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: sunflower


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, manure management
  • Crop Production: municipal wastes
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy conservation/efficiency, energy use, solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: value added, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: permaculture
  • Soil Management: composting

    Proposal abstract:

    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 have 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 proposed project will be to train Cooperative Extension agents, farmer mentors and other agriculture professionals in South Carolina and neighboring states as Energy Educators. The SC SARE Program will collaborate 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 will focus 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 will prepare 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 bioconversion of waste materials.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    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 and personal interviews 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.

    Anticipated Impacts and Changes in Behavior
    1. Identification of perceived obstacles to implementation of alternative energy systems by farmers will inform development of the training curriculum to focus on specific solutions to critical challenges limiting farmer adoption. This will equip the training participants to advise farmers on how to integrate alternative energy strategies into their farm plans that will be practical and cost-effective for their individual farming operations. 

    2. Advance and widespread promotion of the on-farm energy training curriculum and schedule of classes developed with program partners including  SC SARE Program stakeholders and South Carolina New and Beginning Farmer Program participants will generate interest in the energy training program and will encourage the participation of significant numbers of 1862 and 1890 Extension agriculture and horticulture agents, farmer educators,  and other agriculture professionals.

    3. As a result of the training participants will demonstrate improved awareness and competency in the design, operation and cost-effectiveness of renewable and low cost energy systems appropriate for small farms, and they will be 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 given available resources.

    4.The project will create a network of Energy Educators who will be prepared to lead training efforts in their own communities, helping local farmers to increase energy self-reliance, reduce their energy costs, and to create value-added products through bioconversion of waste materials. The project collaborators and network of Energy Educators will stay in touch after the project period for mutual support, and to pursue opportunities for additional grant funding to support additional training, research and professional development. As a result, we expect that opportunities for farmer training in and adoption of renewable energy strategies will continue to expand even after the project has ended.

    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.