Agriculture USDA distributes federal loans and grants for renewable energy and efficiency upgrades

Published on November 18th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


U.S. Farmers Benefit from Federal Clean Energy Loans and Grants

November 18th, 2010 by  

USDA distributes federal loans and grants for renewable energy and efficiency upgradesWhile some members of Congress seem to think that spending federal dollars on local projects is a bad thing, hundreds of farmers and rural business owners are eagerly taking the opportunity to improve their operations through federal clean energy loans and grants totalling more than $30 million. The funds, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will pay for 516 projects that install renewable energy equipment and improve energy efficiency at agricultural operations.

USDA and Rural Renewable Energy

The USDA has already been making waves through its AgStar program, which promotes the installation of biogas equipment at livestock farms. The new round of loans and grants is coming through the agency’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP – clever, right?). REAP expands the renewable energy field in agriculture to include a large number of solar installations, along with wind turbines, biomass and even geothermal. The projects also include a large number of equipment upgrades to improve energy efficiency, convert old diesel equipment to electric and install new lighting.

Grain Dryers – Who Knew?

One big item in the list of 516 projects turns out to be the replacement of old grain dryers with more energy efficient equipment. If you’re a city person like me you probably never though much about grain dryers, but apparently they can take quite a big chunk out of a farm’s utility bills. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, grain dryers are used primarily for shelled corn that is stored on site. In the past, natural gas and other fossil fuels were used for hot-air drying, but more modern equipment relies on ambient air temperature. NSAIS also notes that solar technology may be a good alternative for grain drying at small and medium sized farms.

Image: Wind turbines on a farm by bobistraveling on

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About the Author

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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • Lawrence Landherr

    Farm grain dryers seldon have access to natural gas. They burn propane which is more expensive to buy. The original solar dryer was a round steel grain bin painted flat black and encased in a plexiglass envelope.
    This works great in states from Kansas south. All the farmer has to pay for is electricity to run the blower motor. If it’s too humid, shut the blower off. If the temperature inside the envelope is below a set temp., the blower doesn’t run.

    • Tina Casey

      Lawrence: Thanks for the info about the use of propane for grain drying. I had some info that indicated natural gas but I guess it depends whether there is access to a gas main (my parents had to rent one of those big propane tanks for household use because there was no gas line to their home).

  • Roger Lauricella

    Tina; I think you are misunderstanding the EARMARK issue when you say, “While some members of Congress seem to think that spending federal dollars on local projects is a bad thing,” Earmarks have traditionally been projects slipped in with bills having nothing to do with the projects as a means to circumvent the normal budgetary process for funding of items. Democrats like Republicans have used this for years almost as slush funds for local work (valid or not valid) without having to submit those projects into the normal budget process. That’s what the Republicans are committing to NOT do, no Earmarks does not mean no local projects it just means put those projects into the budget process for normal review. OR am I way off in that you sincerely believe that EARMARKs should be a valid way of doing business outside the normal budget process.??

    • Tina Casey

      Roger: Thank you for your comment. I think you’ve really gotten hold of a fundamental issue, which is that the term “earmark” is being slung around without being defined. I think it’s fair to say that in the current debate, the term is used very loosely to refer to spending federal dollars on local projects, and for that reason I did not use the term “earmark” in my post. You offer a definition but that is not generally what the public is hearing from politicians when they talk about banning earmarks.

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