The U.S. agricultural sector is beginning to take on a leadership role in the transition to renewable energy, and the latest example is the California rice industry’s adoption of solar power. In a first of its kind partnership, several California rice companies pooled their stock to put together an entire shipment of rice that was not only grown with solar energy (the sun, right?), but also dried, stored, milled and packaged at solar powered facilities. As reported by Anne Gonzales of the Sacramento Bee, the Japan-bound vessel is only one of the twenty-plus rice shipments that California sends to Japan each season, but considering that the switchover to solar power is just getting off the ground, that’s a great start for the rice industry.
Solar Power and U.S. Rice
Gonzales notes that the shipment was intended to make a statement about the California rice industry’s commitment to alternative energy. It can also be taken as a signal to U.S. policy makers that references Japan’s rapidly evolving clean energy strategy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Considering that the U.S. nuclear industry is also vulnerable to flooding, the solar rice shipment seems designed to prove that continued growth in nuclear energy is not necessary to sustain agriculture and other large scale commercial operations in the U.S. — and is certainly not worth the risk of contaminating valuable farmland.
Grain Drying and Solar Power
Of all things, it turns out that grain drying is one of the biggest energy-gobblers not only for rice production but for other grains as well. Last year the U.S. Department of Agriculture distributed $30 million in energy conservation and renewable energy loans and grants to farmers, and a major focus of the program was the replacement of old grain dryers with more efficient equipment. That includes the use of new ambient-air technology as well as solar-powered grain drying and storage equipment.
A New Push for Solar Power in Agriculture
Solar dryers aren’t exactly new to the rice industry – back in 2004, California’s Butte County Rice Growers Association made headlines when it installed a $1.5 million solar array for its rice facilities – but in recent years there has been a strong surge of interest in solar energy as well as other renewables. The trend is being pushed by the Obama Administration, which seems to understand (unlike some policy makers) that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The simple fact is that the agriculture industry needs to gear up to keep the food supply running smoothly as fossil fuels become more risky, expensive, and vulnerable to geopolitical circumstances. Food supply is a genuine public priority, just like national defense – and if there’s any doubt about the need for renewable energy in that sector check out how renewable energy has become a priority for the U.S. military.
Image: Rice by IRRI images on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.