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The Washington Farm Energy Program Pilot

Energy is a major business expense for Washington's agricultural producers. The Washington Farm Energy Program pilot helped producers learn how to reduce those costs and make their operations more efficient and profitable. Consumers increasingly value producers who integrate conservation into their business operations.

Conserving energy helps agricultural producers

On the national level, the 2002 and 2008 farm bills directed agencies to help producers reduce the use of fossil fuel energy. NRCS at USDA responded by:
  • Including energy among the resources they will work to conserve
  • Recognizing that good conservation practices can save energy
  • Providing technical and financial assistance to help conserve energy

A 2009 bill signed by Governor Chris Gregoire (E2SSB 5649) acknowledged the importance of energy efficiency on farms and the need to conserve all types of energy.

To address the potential value of energy improvements to Washington's agricultural producers, a group of agencies and experts formed the Washington Farm Energy Program pilot. Goals of the pilot included:

  • Positioning producers to take advantage of grants and other incentive programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Renewable Energy for America Program with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and utility incentive programs.
  • Encouraging producers to make the changes identified in energy assessments to enhance their energy efficiency.

Program partners

The Washington Farm Energy Program pilot was supported by energy and agricultural experts from:

  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Rural Development,
  • WSU Energy Program and WSU Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources,
  • Washington State Conservation Commission,
  • Washington Association of Conservation Districts,
  • Washington State Department of Agriculture,
  • Washington State Dairy Federation, and
  • State agricultural associations and participating utilities.

The Washington dairy industry was a key partner

Dairy producers agreed to support development of new, investment-grade, open-source software to help producers evaluate energy-related costs. The South Yakima and Thurston County conservation districts used the software to provide participating dairies with site-specific energy assessment and management plans that:

  • Addressed on-farm energy burdens and opportunities;
  • Addressed fuel, fertilizer, and other energy-related farm costs; and
  • Gave producers a prioritized set of energy-saving options.

What did this program involve?

The Washington dairy industry – a key partner in developing the Washington Farm Energy Program pilot – volunteered to participate in the on-farm testing associated with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Energy Initiative.

A qualified energy management consultant used software designed for Washington producers to evaluate energy use and energy conservation options at participating dairy farms, and to identify potential energy savings. Each participating dairy farm received an Energy Conservation Activity Plan (Energy CAP).

Energy CAPs include a summary of current facility and field operations, practices, and energy use, as well as recommended energy-saving measures and associated paybacks. Some measures (such as new pumps, cooling systems or lighting) require capital expenditures. The program helped to link producers with financial assistance opportunities from the USDA EQIP Energy Initiative to make those upgrades. Other energy conservation programs, including those available through utility companies, also provided assistance to help reduce farm energy costs.

Initial estimates of average energy savings from implementing recommended measures range from 10 to 30 percent.