Solar ag boost: More USDA loans, grants available for renewable projects

USDA solar financing

The ag sector is an important one for solar, so the announcement last week from the USDA that it is awarding loans and grants that will help more than 1,100 rural small businesses and agricultural producers reduce energy usage and costs in their operations is a welcome one. The funding is for energy efficiency improvements and/or renewable energy systems.

USDA is providing $102 million in loan guarantees and $71 million in grants for 1,114 projects financed through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Among the projects, nearly $6 million is being awarded for 17 anaerobic digesters in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Washington.

Some nice examples of this financing in action:

The owners of Parker Farms in Ripley, Tenn., are receiving a $45,000 REAP grant to help finance the installation of a 50 kW solar system that was installed late last year. The system has lowered the grain farm’s average monthly electric bill by $800 – from $1,140 to $340. That is a savings of nearly $10,000 a year. The solar system covers more than 70 percent of the farm’s annual electric costs. Parker Farms participates in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Power Providers program and sells 100 percent of its solar electricity to TVA at a premium.

RELATED: Watch REC Solar, Windset Farms flip switch on 1-MW solar array 

Fresh Air Energy XVI, LLC is receiving a $3.8 million loan guarantee to finance a 6.5 megawatt solar array in Greene County, N.C. The project is expected to produce enough energy to power 1,000 average-sized homes for a year. This is one of several loans the company is receiving to expand the use of solar energy in the state.

In Pearl City, Hawaii, the owner of the wholesale bakery “The Patisserie, Inc.” is being awarded a $256,000 loan guarantee and a $128,000 grant to install a PV system. It is expected to generate 172,000 kilowatts of energy annually and reduce energy use by nearly 40 percent.

RELATED: Obama Administration lays out more plans to boost clean energy installs 

“More rural business owners and ag producers are incorporating energy-saving measures into their business plans,” Vilsack said. “These actions improve an operation’s bottom line and help reduce its carbon footprint. This funding will help incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology and reduce energy costs. But beyond the local benefits seen by a company saving energy costs and the global benefits of reducing carbon emissions, this funding will also create American jobs by supporting energy production and efficiency installations that are made in rural America.”

Congress created the REAP program in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the success of the program, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of at least $50 million annually for the duration of the five-year bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past seven years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

Since the start of the Obama Administration, REAP has helped finance 10,753 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects that have reduced energy costs for rural businesses nationwide. During this period, USDA has provided almost $360 million in grants and $430 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners. When operational, these projects will generate/save an estimated 8.4 million MWh.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

U.S. Farmers Increase Planting of GMO Corn Banned From China Markets

gmocorn

Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) and Bunge Ltd., two of the world’s largest grain traders, are intent on increasing corn exports to China, however, U.S. farmers have plans of their own. 

gmocorn

The wide-scale planting of GMOs that aren’t approved by key importing countries will chip away at the competitiveness of U.S. grain and feed exports. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Six months after China started rejecting shipments of corn made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), Bunge stated it wouldn’t accept deliveries of the variety developed by Switzerland’s Syngenta AG, reports Bloomberg.

ADM plans on testing the GMO corn, and may end up rejecting it as well. Regardless, farmers will soon begin planting the crop this spring due to its high yield for the U.S. market. 

Bloomberg reports:

Exporters and farmers going in two different directions on GMO corn underscores a new set of challenges faced by international agricultural commodity traders. Even as demand continues to grow in line with the global population, China and other countries have been slower than the U.S. to approve new types of crops amid concerns about food safety and threats to biodiversity from [GMOs]. China’s curbs on some modified corn threaten to block millions of tons of imports and in so doing cut into the profits of international trading houses.

“It’s a significant issue for major North American traders,” said Andrew Russell, a New York-based analyst for Macquarie Group who recommends buying ADM and Bunge shares. “Anything that puts Chinese growth potential at risk is a significant issue.”

Traders rerouting shipments originally destined for China to other markets may lose $30 to $50 a ton, said Tim Burrack, an Iowa corn and soybean farmer who’s also the former chairman of the U.S. Grains Council’s trade committee.

Bunge isn’t buying the Syngenta GMO corn, an insect-repelling variety known as Agrisure Viptera, or another modified variety from the Swiss company called Agrisure Duracade. On Feb. 21, ADM executives said they wouldn’t accept Duracade until the GMO is approved by China and other major importers. The company also hasn’t committed to Viptera.

The wide-scale planting of GMOs that aren’t approved by key importing countries will chip away at the competitiveness of U.S. grain and feed exports. 

Corn containing Duracade will be planted on 250,000 to 300,000 acres this spring, which will be harvested in the autumn, according to Reuters. 

ADM shares have dropped 1.9 percent this year in New York while Bunge has fallen by 4.2 percent. Syngenta has seen a 4.6 percent decline in Zurich.

As China cuts back on GMO imports, U.S. growers are seeking to boost yields to counter a 34 percent plunge in corn prices over the last year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected farm income will fall 27 percent over the course of 2014—a four-year low.

Since January, Syngenta has sold out of its Duracade variety, part of a broader trend toward modified crops.

However, that brings up another problem for farmers and traders. If different types of grain are not separated, then traders risk cross-contamination of non-GMO crops with crops containing modified organisms.

Even if farmers carefully separate their grain, such contamination can still occur in several ways, including inadvertent mixing and cross-pollination by bees or wind.

Ultimately, that’s a risk many farmers have come to accept as they plant Viptera and other strains in hopes of increasing their yield for the U.S. market. 

“While American farmers search for imaginary yield gains from GMOs, they need to be mindful of the fact that contamination of their neighbor’s organic and non-GMO fields will not be tolerated by our nation’s trading partners or the American public,” said Dave Murphy, founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!.

——–

Related Content:

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Organic Standards Lowered for Livestock in Drought-Ridden California

Organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock's grass diet with organic feed, but environmentalists warn this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Due to California’s historic drought, a variance was issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in February that enables applicable organic livestock farmers in the Golden State to temporarily disregard the feeding standards that allow them to stamp their product as organic.

Organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock's grass diet with organic feed, but environmentalists warn this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock’s grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Farmers, whose grazing season include February and March, are not required to have their livestock grass-fed during those months given the absence of grass. Essentially, scores of cows will graze for only two months instead of four, which is the amount of time typically required to label livestock as organic.

During that time, “organic ruminant livestock producers … are not required to graze or provide dry matter intake from pasture during this time period,” the variance states. “Producers may reduce their 2014 grazing season by the number of days that correspond to this time period in their grazing plan.”

The USDA variance was approved after the federal agency received several requests from the California Certified Organic Farmers and Marin Organic Certified Agriculture, and it will only apply to farmers operating within the 53 out of 58 counties that have been deemed primary natural disaster areas, according to the The Huffington Post

“It’s huge because we still don’t have pasture for cows to graze on,” Albert Straus of the Straus Family Creamery in Petaluma told The Guardian. “We lost at least a month to a month-and-a-half of pasture,” he said, adding that the grass died out last December.

President Obama recently visited California to provide a $183 million aid package, but Straus said the government funding (which has topped $1.2 billion overall) will do little to fix the widespread problem. “As far as I know it’s not fast enough or enough money to help the farmers,” he added. “I don’t think it will touch the losses that farmers will have.”

According to the California Certified Organic Farmers, organic producers are only allowed to substitute their livestock’s grass diet with organic feed, but there is concern that this is not a long-term solution as it threatens established organic standards.

“It’s a necessary evil,” Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, told The Huffington Post. “We’ll support this variance if that’s the only alternative.”

“Grass-fed dairy or beef has higher levels of Omega-3 and Omega-6, which is extremely important in human health,” said Cummins. “There’s no doubt that feeding grain to animals that aren’t supposed to be eating grain is not good for them, not good for the environment and not good for consumers.”

According to the USDA, the variance is temporary, but the timeline could be extended if the drought continues to devastate California’s farming communities.

In January, after the state of California formally declared a drought emergency, Juliet Christian-Smith, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, explained, “The current historically dry weather is a bellwether of what is to come in California, with increasing periods of drought expected with climate change.”

The record breaking drought has taken a tremendous toll on the state of California. Below is a stunning photo essay compiled by Earthjustice,

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Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.