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

2014 Annual 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

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


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 is to train agriculture professionals in South Carolina and neighboring states as Energy Educators. In this first project year, specific topics for the farm-energy training were identified based on stakeholder input, a training curriculum was developed, and six (6) full-day training events were conducted to address perceived challenges to adoption of alternative farm energy systems. Participants rated the trainings 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.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Objectives for the first project year were to 1) prioritize specific topics for the farm-energy training based on input from stakeholders, 2) work with the project team to develop a training curriculum and schedule of training workshops for the year, 3) organize and deliver the training through a series of classes and on-farm experiential learning, and 4) conduct participant surveys to evaluate the first year training.


In 2014 six training events were conducted on the following dates/topics:

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 9: Efficient Greenhouse Heating and Cooling Systems

Training instructors included project team members and other regional experts on farm energy systems (see attached training announcement). A total of 149 participants attended the training events including Extension agents, agricultural NGO and governmental organization representatives, 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 including

  • 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)
  • Permaculture design components including native edible landscapes, rainwater harvesting and diversion systems, and use of ponds to perform multiple functions on the farm (heat for greenhouses, fish production, habitat for beneficial organisms, etc.)

The objective for the first project year was to conduct a total of four workshops. 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. 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.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Initial surveys of Extension agents and other stakeholders were used to identify perceived obstacles to implementation of alternative energy systems, and resulted in a series of training events that were developed to address those specific challenges. Widespread promotion of the on-farm energy training resulted in excellent participant turnout with diverse audiences including 1862 and 1890 Extension agriculture and horticulture agents and other agriculture professionals and farmer educators. Results from workshop participant surveys to date indicate 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, particularly for greenhouse and high tunnel heating. Here are examples of responses from Extension agents attending the High Tunnel training:

 “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 operating and planning 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 tunnel.”

 “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.”


Edoe Agbodjan
Sr. Extension Director
South Carolina State University
300 College St.
Orangeburg, SC 29117
Office Phone: 8035365798
Charles Thornton
Facilities Manager (Compost)
Clemson University
Cherry Crossing Recycling Center
Clemson, SC 29634
Shawn Jadrnicek
Organic Farm Manager
Clemson University
E-142 Poole Bldg.
Clemson, SC 29634
Office Phone: 8644578006
Karl Warkomski
VP of Operations
755 Darius Pearce Rd.
Youngsville, NC 27506
Office Phone: 2145096001
Steve Moore
Lecturer in Env. Studies
Elon University
031 McMichael Science Bldg.,
Elon, NC 27244
Office Phone: 3362786271