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EnergyAg Newsbriefs

October 2012

Welcome to this edition of EnergyAg Newsbriefs brought to you by the Washington State University Extension Energy Program Library. Please forward this issue to those of your colleagues interested in energy-efficient agricultural practices. Archives of past messages

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Walnut-shell-biogas part of grower’s award-winning sustainability toolbox

Dixon Ridge Farms, a walnut orchard in Winters, California, provides energy for walnut processing using a biogas generator which runs on the farm’s own walnut shells. The strategy is part of a larger set of energy-effective and sustainable practices, which also include rooftop solar panels, energy-efficient lighting, a highly insulated freezer, cover cropping, and integrated pest management. Russ Lester, the farm’s owner, was recently named Sustainable Agriculture Champion for 2012 by the U.S. EPA Southwest Region. To learn more, read "EPA Praises Winters Farmer’s Sustainable Agriculture Efforts," published September 28, 2012, in the Daily Republic.

Diverse feedstocks could increase adoption of anaerobic digesters

"Cogeneration at US Dairies Gets a Boost from Co-Digestion," written by Ed Ritchie, appeared in the August 2012 issue of Cogeneration & Onsite Power Production. The author suggests that the strategy of adding other organic wastes, including food waste from landfills, to the mix of animal manure and on-farm organic food waste traditionally used for biogas on U.S. farms, could result in a higher interest level in anaerobic digestion. 

Benefits of biomass-producing prairies

"Fertilized Prairies Hold Promise for Future Biofuel Systems," released September 7, 2012, at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture website, describes research comparing the economic and environmental performance of several types of traditional biofuel cropping systems with that of fertilized and unfertilized reconstructed prairie. Prairie soil is richer in organic matter, has enhanced water-holding capacity, and retains nutrients better than soil typically found in farm fields. Researchers hope to tap into those benefits by developing ways to interplant food crops into a biomass-producing prairie system.


Industrial heat pump saves energy at Finish dairy

A dairy plant in Finland recently adopted a 19 GW industrial-scale heat pump to reclaim, recycle, and circulate heat and cold from the plant’s production processes. Heat used for washing, cheese and butter production, milk drying, and general plant heating will be exchanged by the heat pump with cold air used for refrigeration, resulting in an energy balance which saves about 500,000 euros per year. For details, read "Europe’s Largest Heat Pump Powers Dairy Plant in Finland," published August 30, 2012, at


Water consumption, technology, and incentives

Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demandsis a new report from the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS), published in September 2012. This report examines the trend of increased demand and declining supply of water resources in the U.S., and identifies practices, such as inefficient irrigation methods and poor or nonexistent water management procedures, which exacerbate the problem. Currently, only 10 percent of farms use advanced water management practices and water- and energy-efficient irrigation technologies, but potential exists for the spread of these tools with the help of government and private incentives and assistance.


LED leads the way to more efficient greenhouse lighting

Researchers at Penn State University found that the use of LED lighting in greenhouses provided energy savings beyond that of the lighting system itself. Along with a 70 percent reduction in energy use for lighting, replacing traditional bulb types with LEDs also reduced the need for compressor cooling, reduced maintenance requirements, and allowed for less-frequent watering. To learn more, see "Research Moves LEDs from the Theatre Stage to the Greenhouse," published September 12, 2012, at PennState Live.


USDA invests in rural smart grid

On September, 7, 2012, the USDA announced that it has met its goal of providing $250 million in loan funds for smart-grid technology deployment as part of the USDA's Rural Utility Service. The loan funds will be used to facilitate the integration of renewable sources of electricity into the grid, help avoid blackouts and restore power when outages occur, and reduce the need for new power plants. For details and a list of recipients, see the USDA press release.


Plans for mobile cooling unit from NCSU

North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) has developed blueprints and instructions for a mobile cooling unit for farmers. The "Pack ‘N Cool" is a five-by-eight-foot refrigerated trailer designed to keep fruits and vegetables at ideal temperatures during transport to and from farmers markets, or as they are harvested from farm fields. The total cost for construction is approximately $3,400, a figure which includes the purchase of a new cargo trailer. A construction summary, a detailed construction manual and budget, and step-by-step photos are available on the PHHI website. An August 17, 2012, news release is also available.


Farm energy guides from MFEP

In September 2012, the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program released a series of Farm Energy Best Management Practices Guides in five categories: dairy farms, greenhouses & nurseries, maple sugaring, orchards & vegetable farms, and renewable energy. Each approximately 75-page guide contains specific recommendations for energy efficient practices and equipment upgrades for each sector. Detailed equipment specifications and cost/payback analyses are included.


The 7th Annual Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance Fall Conference and Organic Trade Show
October 23 - 24, 2012, Grand Mound, Washington
"The mission of the Western Organic Dairy Producers Alliance is to preserve, protect, and ensure the sustainability and integrity of organic dairy farming across the west." This seventh annual conference will feature speakers, an organic trade show, organization business meetings, a producer panel discussion, and a dairy tour.

Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) Annual Meeting
October 26-28, Lewiston, Montana
"AERO is a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to solutions that promote resource conservation and local economic vitality, while nurturing individual and community self-reliance through programs that support sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and environmental quality." The keynote speakers for this event will be Zach Jones & Jim Howell of Grasslands, LLC and Shane Smith with the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Wyoming. Breakout sessions and networking are also planned.

Want to Contribute? If you have information on events, publications, or other ag-related topics that you would like mentioned in an upcoming issue of EnergyAg Newsbriefs, please contact Talia Mathews at