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EnergyAg Newsbriefs

September 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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Oregon expands canola ground

The Oregon Department of Agriculture recently expanded the amount of area where oil- and biodiesel-producing canola seed can be grown in the Willamette Valley. Because canola seed is often produced from genetically modified stock, the move has been greeted with some resistance due to concerns about cross-contamination. For details, see "Oregon Defines Acreage Where Controversial Canola Can Be Grown," published August 7, 2012, at Oregon Live.

Biomass for Biofuels

The September 2012 issue of Agricultural Research, Biomass for Biofuels: A Regional Approach, contains several articles about the biofuels and biomass research being conducted by the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

"ARS and the Regional Biomass Research Centers" describes research being undertaken by ARS at each of the five USDA Regional Biomass Centers.

"Biofuel Prospects with Prairie Perennials" describes an effort to produce bioenergy crops for transportation fuel on land unsuitable for food crops.

"Finding the Right Biofuels for the Southeast: A Range of Alternatives" describes the Southeastern Regional Biomass Center’s investigation into the viability of using sugarcane, sorghum, and napergrass as biofuel crops in the Southeast.

"ARS Researchers Flying Higher With New Jet Fuels" illustrates how ARS scientists and engineers are working to support the development of safe, environmentally sound, and economically viable jet fuel feedstocks and production processes.


Dry farming in California

According to David Little of Little Organic Farm in Sonoma Valley, California, dry farming has the potential to not only save water and energy, but also to produce nutrient-dense, better-tasting fruit. Learn all about the practice in "Farming without Water," published August 3, 2012, on the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) website.


Grazing systems matter in ecosystem health

Research published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, "Well-managed Grazing Systems: A Forgotten Hero of Conservation," examines the importance of ecologically sound, pasture-based grazing methods to environmental health in the eastern United States, and addresses real and perceived barriers to adoption. The beneficial effects of these systems include biodiversity protection, lowered energy inputs, and positive carbon cycle impacts.

Tips for efficient dairies

Energy Efficiency for Dairy Milking Equipment was published in July 2012 by Iowa State University Extension. This two-page free publication covers equipment maintenance and planning, refrigeration heat recovery, compressors, pre-coolers, and variable frequency drives.

Giant radishes improve pasture; save energy

A growing number of dairy farmers in Vermont are planting radishes to reduce soil surface compaction and improve the forage quality of grazing pasture. The practice can reduce or replace more energy-intensive methods such as tilling and replanting. To learn more, read "How Giant Radishes Help Vt Farmers Make Better Milk," posted August 3, 2012, at


USDA helps fund grass biofuel facility

On August 22, 2012, the USDA provided a loan guarantee for the construction of a cellulosic ethanol refinery in North Carolina. The plant is expected to convert 600,000 tons of energy grasses per year into about 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol. Some of the feedstock for the refinery will come from nearby lands used to manage swine lagoon effluent; these grass-cropped areas will now serve a dual purpose. For details, read the USDA press release.

REAP funding announced

On August 14, 2012, the USDA announced the selection of 106 projects in 29 states to receive funding through the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program. For information, read the USDA press release, or see the entire list of projects here.


Sunflowers influence solar engineering

Engineering professor Hongrui Jiang used sunflowers as a model when inventing a new kind of solar panel tracking system. The system uses the light-absorbing qualities of carbon nanotubes to mimic the action of sunflowers as they follow the sun. To learn more, read "Sunflowers Inspire More Efficient Solar Power System," published August 15, 2012, at University of Wisconsin News, or watch Artificial Heliotropism in Action, posted August 13, 2012, on YouTube.


Cotton loves tomatoes

Research published in the July-September issue of California Agriculture suggests that a crop rotation of tomatoes and cotton, grown with cover crops and requiring a reduced number of tiller passes, can save energy while maintaining or slightly increasing cotton yields. For details, read "Conservation tillage systems for cotton advance in the San Joaquin Valley," or watch a short video on the UC California Agriculture website.

Crop rotation diversity improves yields; reduces inputs

According to research performed at the University of Iowa and supported by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, adding diversity to a corn-soybean crop rotation can increase yields and reduce the need for fertilizer, herbicide, and tillage. When clover, small grains, and/or alfalfa were incorporated into three- and four-year rotations, yield increased approximately four percent for corn and nine percent for soybeans, and energy use was cut by half. For details, see "Higher Diversity, Fewer Inputs Make Profitable Farms," published July 9, 2012, on the Leopold Center website.

Reduced tillage and cover crops for soil health

A farm near Emporia, Kansas, has significantly reduced its inputs of fertilizer and fossil fuels, increased soil volume, and improved soil texture and water penetration with the use of no- and reduced-tillage methods and extensive cover cropping. Read about the farm’s methods and watch a companion video at "No Till’s Next Level: Farmer Innovation Yields Soil Health Payoffs," posted August 28, 2012, on the Corn & Soybean Digest website.


2nd Annual Inland Northwest Small Farms Conference

September 28-29, 2012, Spokane Valley, WA

Join the Spokane County Conservation District for the 2nd Annual Inland Northwest Small Farmers Conference which will be held on September 28-29 at the Spokane County Interstate Fair and Expo Center. The conference will include seminars to help you manage and grow your farm; displays of equipment and farm-related resources; networking with like-minded farmers; and Keynote Speaker Ken Meter, from Crossroads Resources Center.

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