High fuel prices have put considerable pressure on many sectors of the U.S. economy, but our farmers and agricultural producers are suffering disproportionately. High input costs and the inability to raise prices have left our agricultural sector with limited options. However, as many farmers and producers are rediscovering, energy efficiency is an extremely valuable resource that they can turn to for help during this challenging time.
These important issues are what inspired ACEEE's Forum on Energy Efficiency in Agriculture. The hope was to bring a diverse group of participants together to raise awareness, share information, form new collaborations, and create new ideas regarding policy options to increase energy efficiency on farms and ranches and in rural communities.
The Forum was a big success. We had about 125 attendees from a wide variety of backgrounds. The academic sector, which in the past has produced leaders in promoting energy efficiency, was well represented, including numerous participants from Iowa State University and the Iowa State University Extension Office. We also had participants from universities spanning North America, including the University of Missouri, University of Kentucky, California State University at Fresno, University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, Nova Scotia Agricultural College, Michigan State University Extension, University of Minnesota, and Purdue University. A geographically diverse mix of government entities were also present, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, California Energy Commission, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, Minnesota Department of Commerce, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, we had representatives from most of the significant agriculturally focused energy efficiency programs identified by ACEEE, including PG&E, Alliant Energy, MidAmerican Energy, EnSave, Wisconsin Focus on Energy, and Efficiency Vermont, along with sustainable agricultural experts from the National Center for Appropriate Technology, the Leopold Institute, Deere and Co., and Baldor Electric Company. We also had a number of farmers who attended the conference. We were pleased to find the participants extremely enthusiastic and dedicated to working together to improve energy efficiency in the agricultural sector.
Discussions were as diverse as the agricultural sector, but centered on ways to increase the role of energy efficiency in agriculture. Conference sessions were focused both on energy-efficient technologies and practices currently being used on the farm and on those that should be implemented in order to improve efficiency. Examples of key approaches discussed include use of Global Positioning Systems and multiple-function tools to reduce the number of tractor trips across the field. In addition, other topics emerged, such as "food miles" and issues regarding transportation of agricultural food and products. Some key issues that many felt need to be addressed include the lack of information regarding individual farm practices, the need for increased implementation of energy efficiency programs in general ranging from large statewide programs to smaller regional initiatives, and the disconnect between the environmental sector and the agricultural sector.
A theme of particular importance was the integration of energy efficiency and sustainable development. While not the primary focus of the conference, the environmental and economic benefits of renewable energy were also raised in the context of how these resources could contribute to a more sustainable rural community.
Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill
A major theme that attendees brought up repeatedly throughout the conference was the role of Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill. While they voiced complaints over the early application process, the sense was that USDA is getting it right quickly. Some attendees expressed concerns about the small pot of available funds as well as their inability to get their "fair share." Attendees expressed that there are growing needs for (1) a public awareness campaign by USDA about energy efficiency/renewable energy opportunities and funding; and (2) funding for energy audits to identify energy efficiency and renewable energy opportunities. Other attendees pointed out that the drafters of the bill had hoped that Section 9005 (Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Program) would meet those needs.
In some markets, like Iowa, other organizations have stepped in to meet those needs by providing audit services, assistance in grant writing, co-funding of projects, and technical assistance in project development. Section 9006 has become a motivator for many energy efficiency efforts at the state and local levels. USDA and DOE, with the combined efforts of Iowa State University, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and Alliant Energy, held a successful grant writing workshop in Des Moines the day before the conference that attracted over 80 people. However, other states like Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho have not been as successful in organizing and mobilizing state resources. One Forum attendee suggested that state capability-building grants might prove useful to help address these problems.
Finally, attendees expressed concerns about the fraying of the rural "extension" network as well as already diminishing available resources. This is complicated by cuts in DOE funding for state energy offices and the proposed elimination of the State Technologies Advancement Collaborative (STAC) and regional offices. There is a growing concern that the ability to educate and provide technical assistance in the rural communities is in peril.
Thank you to everyone who contributed their time and energy to helping make the Forum a success — in particular, to all the session organizers and speakers who were the heart of the conference, and to the sponsors who made the conference possible. A special thanks goes to Rebecca Lunetta, ACEEE's Conferences Manager, and to Julie Kieffer from Iowa State University Extension.
Neal Elliott, Industrial and Agricultural Program Director
Glee Murray, Communications Director
Steve Nadel, Executive Director
Susanne Brooks, Industry and Agricultural Research Staff