Eat It, Drink It, Feed It, Fuel It:
By: Debra Heleba, University of Vermont Extension agriculture coordinator
Since 2003, the University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops and Soils program (NWCS) has been conducting on-farm research on a wide range of crops-from cereal grains and forages to hops and oilseeds-to provide farmers and end-users with agronomic information that supports human food and beverage markets, as well as local livestock feed and biofuel production.
Dr. Heather Darby, Extension Agronomic and Soils Specialist, leads NWCS. As a farmer herself, she understands the importance of conducting research locally. “One of the most important reasons for conducting research at a land grant university is to answer the questions that are coming from the community around you,” states Darby. To that end, NWCS brings together farmers and end-users of their products (bakers and brewers, for example) in every step of the research process, from identifying production barriers and developing research questions to implementing trials and sharing the results on-farm. This team approach has allowed NWCS to successfully address goals outlined in Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan. Here are just a few examples:
• Toward Vermont’s Farm to Plate goal to increase the overall amount of food produced in Vermont, NWCS conducts variety trials of wheat, barley, and hops. It also created a grains and hops testing lab to ensure high quality, safe local products. Several bakeries are now using Vermont-grown wheat and nine Vermont breweries are using locally grown hops.
• NWCS research on cover crops and home-grown livestock forages as well as its nutrient management planning education have helped dairy farmers reduce off-farm fertilizer and livestock feed purchases moving toward Vermont’s goal to decrease adverse environmental impacts from farming and food system activities and the goal to increase dairy farm viability. Results from a 2010 NWCS survey suggest that through the development of nutrient management plans, Vermont dairy farms have reduced phosphorus additions on their farms by an average of 50% and have implemented cover cropping and other conservation practices.
• Toward the Farm to Plate goal to increase food system renewable energy sources, NWCS research and outreach projects in partnership with the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative on sunflower, soybean and canola crops have sought to build on-farm energy independence; more than 24 farms are now growing their own oilseed crops for fuel, feed, and fertilizers.
To learn more about NWCS and its research to date, visit www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil.
Farmers in Vermont are making their own biodiesel from sunflowers, and maybe you have wondered: Can I do that?
First, you might be interested to watch this video on growing sunflowers for biodiesel:
You may be interested in increasing self-sufficiency, replacing fossil fuel with a renewable or saving $2.00 per gallon on diesel fuel. But can the average landowner grow their biodiesel?
Land is the first thing needed to grow sunflowers. But most homesteaders or homeowners are not likely to have the equipment required for producing their own biodiesel, like a combine for harvesting the sunflowers, an oilseed press for extracting oil and a processor for converting the oil to biodiesel. These are expensive pieces of equipment that require a good deal of know-how, and the payback just isn’t there for the small-time producer.
Processing can be done, however, at some on-farm facilities, including Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh, State Line Biofuel Farm in North Bennington and other private farms, or in conjunction with other farms growing oilseeds like Woods Market Garden in Brandon and Ekolott Farm in Newbury. Growers located near to these farms could consider growing oilseeds on their land and bringing them to a nearby facility for processing into biodiesel.
Those wishing to purchase locally-grown biodiesel can also look to Full Sun Company in Middlebury, who will be providing to consumers biodiesel fuel made from recycled cooking oil produced at their Vermont mill and made from locally-grown oilseeds like soybeans, canola and sunflowers.
For growers that do have the land available for oilseed production and a place to process their seed, the growing manual “Oilseed Production in the Northeast” by Dr. Heather Darby at University of Vermont Extension is a useful resource. Those considering the economics of this endeavor should download the “Oilseed Cost and Profit Calculator” produced by Chris Callahan PE at UVM Extension. For more resources including videos, image galleries, reports and helpful links, click to learn more about growing oilseeds for biofuel.
Beautiful fields of sunflowers growing in Newbury and Shaftsbury, Vermont will have an unusual future: the flowers’ seeds will be converted to biodiesel and livestock feed. The fuel will be used in Green Mountain Power’s fleet of vehicles and for building heating, saving Green Mountain Power customers money and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. The feed will be used on Vermont farms to supplement animal nutrition.
“Green Mountain Power is leading the way in many local energy initiatives,” said Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell. “Using Vermont sunflowers to power our vehicles and heat our buildings is a beautiful way to keep our energy local and clean.”
Twenty acres of sunflowers are growing at the State Line Farm Biofuels in Shaftsbury and another ten acres are growing at the Ekolott Farm in Newbury. When the oilseeds are harvested this fall, they will be dried and pressed, then the raw oil will be converted to biodiesel, or B100. The solid portion of the seed, the meal, is valuable as a livestock feed. Depending on the crops’ success, the cost of fuel to Green Mountain Power could be up to one dollar less than current B100 prices.
“It is so great to be part of this innovative test with GMP,” said John Williamson of State Line Farm Biofuels. “Projects like this really help support farmers, plus it’s beautiful to see the fields of sunflowers and even more beautiful to realize it will provide a clean and local power source.”
This pilot is a partnership between Green Mountain Power, UVM Extension, and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. UVM Extension and the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative have worked together for several years to encourage the growth of oil seeds as an energy source and the addition of Green Mountain Power is hoped to accelerate this effort even further.
“As a result of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, several pioneering farmers in Vermont now have the necessary infrastructure to produce sustainable biodiesel,” notes Chris Callahan, UVM Extension Agricultural Engineer. “This is a unique model: local production for local use. The partnership with Green Mountain Power means more gallons will be made which means lower cost for everyone.”
“The goal is for local biodiesel production to both shave fuel costs for our customers while helping to develop new markets for locally produced liquid fuels,” said Powell. “We see this benefiting local farms and customers as we work together to provide more clean cost-effective and reliable power.”
About Green Mountain Power
Green Mountain Power (GMP) serves approximately 265,000 residential and business customers in Vermont and has a vision to be the best small company in America by empowering customers to save money and move to clean energy sources. GMP recognizes the role of electric utilities is changing and is focused on a new way of doing business to meet the needs of customers with integrated services, while continuing to generate clean, cost-effective and reliable power in Vermont. In 2014, Vote Solar named GMP a Solar Champion. More information at: www.greenmountainpower.com.
About the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative
A program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative connects diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use by supporting research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy including biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. More information at: www.VermontBioenergy.com.
12 Sep 2014
BTEC Webinar: Energy Farmers
Fall is harvest season in the nation’s agricultural communities, and energy is a crop of growing importance. Understanding the unique characteristics of agricultural residue and grass biomass supply chains is critical to the expansion of these non-woody fuels for conversion to useful heat and power. Join the Biomass Thermal Energy Council’s (BTEC) webinar on Wednesday, October 1st at 1PM ET as speakers Jay Van Roekel of Vermeer and Tom Wilson of Wilson Engineering Services discuss the ins-and-outs of agricultural and grass biomass fuels from the field to the boiler.
Topics to include:
• What types of agricultural residues and grass biomass are at commercial stage for conversion to useful heat and power?
• What are the harvest considerations of agricultural residues and grass biomass?
• How are agricultural residues and grass biomass processed and sized?
• How is this non-woody fuel stored, pre and post sizing?
• Case study: what would it take for dedicated grass energy crops to be a viable option for replacing fossil fuels in thermal applications in the U.S. Northeast?
• Q & A with the speakers
07 Aug 2014
National Bioenergy Day
Save the Date! October 22, 2014, is the second annual NBD Participant Flyer 2014. Spearheaded by the Biomass Power Association, the day is marked with events from across the country that celebrate the many benefits of local bioenergy.
National Bioenergy Day is an opportunity for Vermonters to showcase our research, progress, and impacts in producing local bioenergy for local use.
How To Get Involved:
- Organize an event on or near October 22nd that showcases bioenergy as a clean, efficient, and resourceful way to produce energy. Emphasizes bioenergy’s role in improving environmental health; and facilitates collaboration along the supply chain.
- Partner with someone who works in the bioenergy supply chain to create an event. Use the Vermont Energy Atlas to find partners in your area.
- Piggyback on an existing event and call it a NBD event.
- Share and talk about NBD in your social media and press efforts while promoting impacts in your community.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, for example, will spend the day re-capping and previewing events on our Twitter handle that took place throughout the summer and that are planned for the fall. We’ll be recapping and sharing exciting things like the Biofuels Course at University of Vermont, Digester Operations Master Certificate at Vermont Technical College, annual University of Vermont Extension Crops and Soils Field Day at Borderview Research Farm, educational webinars, and several on-farm meetings and workshops.
If you are interested in planning a National Bioenergy Day to promote your work in Vermont, please contact Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative.
23 Jun 2014
Jobs and Clean Energy
Representatives of the clean energy industry celebrated today as the results of several studies and polls corroborated Vermont’s support for a clean energy future and leadership role in the clean energy industry. Governor Shumlin released the results of the first Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report. The report showed that more than 15,000 Vermonters work in the clean energy industry, which expects to see an additional 12% in growth over the next year.
“The statistics are very encouraging,” says Gabrielle Stebbins, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont, the state trade association for renewable energy businesses. “Clean energy businesses are strong and growing. Meanwhile, two independent polls show that 86% of Vermonter’s support the state’s goal of getting 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, while 90% believe that making this transition is necessary and important. From every corner of the state, Vermonters are sending a strong message to officials and elected leaders that they want a sustainable energy future. Our officials are responding, and the businesses are too.”
Solar electric, modern wood heating, efficiency leaders and others met at Blodgett’s Supply in the state capital to celebrate job growth, Vermonters saving energy and keeping dollars local. “It’s been clear to those in the market that Vermont’s clean energy sector is growing”, said Chair of the Renewable Energy Vermont Board, Tom Hughes of Sunward Solar. “The Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report, however, provides verifiable statistics to show that Vermont’s recent placement as #1 in solar jobs per capita, #2 in solar hot water systems installed, and the lead in farm methane systems is not just anecdotal – it’s real.”
The Report shows that, of the new employment opportunities in the last year, over 81% were new jobs, with the remainder representing new positions for existing employees. It also showed the merging of various business sectors – electricians entering the solar electric market and fuel oil dealers offering their customers more efficient heating systems such as air source heat pumps. “The Clean Energy Industry is not a fringe component of our economy,” Stebbins said. “As more Vermonters move towards an efficient and renewable energy future, more businesses are joining the sector as opportunities continue to grow.”
More Vermonters are moving towards a clean energy future, as the jobs results show. Similarly, two polls have been completed this June, showing Vermonters views towards clean energy. The Energy Action Network poll, released today, shows that Vermonters want clean energy, and they want it now: 74% of those polled agreed that transitioning away from traditional fuels needs to happen as quickly as possible. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group poll showed that support for a clean economy crossed party lines, with 93% of self-identified Democrats, 69% of Independents and 49% of Republicans saying they would view clean energy political candidates more favorably than others.
The Vermont Clean Energy Industry Report will be repeated over the next two years, with other ongoing polls continuing also.
19 May 2014
Sustainable Energy Summit
US Department of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz visited Vermont last week to learn about our leadership in clean energy. While here, he met with the Vermont Congressional delegation and had several opportunities to meet with Vermont’s energy leaders.
On the evening of Thursday May 15, Ellen Kahler, Executive Director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), joined 40 other invitees for a briefing with Dr. Moniz at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) in Burlington. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of VSJF. The event was organized by Senator Bernie Sanders, who meets regularly with many of the invitees to discuss shifts in US energy policy, based on what has worked here in Vermont. During this briefing, Dr. Moniz heard about the many innovative initiatives underway to reduce non-renewable energy use and increase energy efficiency throughout the state. Examples of these initiatives include Green Mountain Power‘s investments in renewable energy projects, Washington Electric Cooperative’s 100% renewable portfolio, SunCommon‘s impressive residential solar energy installation program, Energy Action Network‘s efforts on making Montpelier the first net-zero state capital in the US, and the state’s commitment to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2050, to name just a few.
On Friday May 16, Dr. Moniz was one of eight panelists to speak at the Sustainable Energy Summit at Middlebury College. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch, and Governor Peter Shumlin represented the Vermont delegation and comprised half of the panel. The second half were four Vermont energy leaders: Dr. Jack Byrne from Middlebury College, Mary Powell from Green Mountain Power, Scott Johnstone from VEIC, and Jamison Ervin from Waterbury LEAP, the Waterbury-Duxbury energy committee.
The Summit was open to the public and was attended by citizens, energy program leaders such as Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, and students. All panelists were invited to speak to the importance of clean energy to Vermont, and there was time for questions from the audience.
08 May 2014
Vermont Bioenergy Initiative releases report on grass heating energy potential in Vermont and the Northeast
Montpelier, VT – A new report evaluating grass biomass energy as a potential heating fuel has been released. Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast summarizes current research on the agronomy and usage potential of grass as a biofuel, and points to next steps for the region to fully commercialize this opportunity. The report was released last week by the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative, a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. The full report can be found on the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative website.
“There have been several independent assessments over the years of the various aspects of growing and burning grass for energy, but we were missing the step of linking it all together. We needed to put into one place what is currently known about grass energy, and get our remaining questions on paper,” says Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. “It is very possible that grass as a heating fuel could enter into Vermont’s growing suite of renewable energy options. There are still uncertainties, but this report provides a series of recommendations and next steps for Vermont and the Northeast.”
The assessment for the report was conducted by members from Wilson Engineering Services and Ernst Conservation Seeds, and a former staff of Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension, who together conducted a literature review and interviews with experts in the field. The report was reviewed by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, University of Vermont Extension, Biomass Energy Resource Center, and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast includes key recommendations on models of grass energy that will work best for Vermont. Regional and closed loop processing were two models recommended, both involving farmers growing and harvesting grass, but differing in where the grass is processed into fuel and where it is used. The regional processing model calls for aggregating grass from a 50-mile radius at a central processing facility, where the grass is made into and used as fuel, or sold to local users. The closed loop model suggests farmers growing and processing grass on-site for on-farm or community use. Other models, like mobile on-farm processing and processing fuel for the consumer pellet market have significant hurdles to overcome if they are to be successful in Vermont.
Despite hurdles in some of the models presented, the report points to grass energy being a good option overall. “Native, warm-season grasses grown as a heating fuel are a viable energy crop for Vermont farmers wishing to diversify. Once the grasses are well-established, the input costs are minimal—especially compared to corn,” states Alexander DePillis, senior agriculture development coordinator for Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, an instrumental partner throughout planning for and publishing the grass energy report. “Grass thermal energy has the potential to help cut Vermont’s overall fuel bills while helping us meet the overall goal of the Comprehensive Energy Plan—for Vermont to obtain 90% of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.”
Perennial grasses can be grown on marginal lands not well suited for continuous row crop production and in open rural land currently not in agricultural production. The grass energy benefits reviewed in the report include retaining energy dollars in the local community, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from heating systems, improving energy security, providing a use for marginal farmland, and reducing pollution in soil and run-off from farms. Recommendations include a concerted effort in Vermont to plant grasses for energy on extended buffer strips along Lake Champlain, thereby reducing its nutrient load. Grass is a perennial crop harvested annually that can help level the increasing demand for forest biomass, while adding water quality and wildlife benefits by controlling erosion, reducing fertilizer use and providing cover and food for migrating and nesting birds.
In 2008, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative began to explore the potential for grasses grown in Vermont to meet a portion of the state’s heating demand and reduce the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels. The Grass Energy in Vermont and the Northeast report was initiated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund to aid in strategic planning for future grass energy program directives. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative and subsequent grass energy report are funded by appropriations from the US Department of Energy secured by the Office of Senator Patrick Leahy.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative (www.vermontbioenergy.com) draws the connection between diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use. Aiming to supply farm inputs and reduce fossil fuel consumption, this program supports research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy. Since 2003 the program has focused on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae production for biofuels and wastewater management. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of The Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization which provides financing, technical assistance and other resources to Vermont businesses who develop products and services and create jobs in the fields of renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture and forestry.
05 May 2014
Small-scale Oilseed Production in the Northeast
Country Folks is a weekly farm paper highlighting the many facets of agricultural life. The publication included an article on two recent webinars on the topic of oilseeds in the Northeast. The article features Roger Rainville, an Alburgh farmer who is growing oilseeds for biodiesel production on his farm, and Penn State and University of Vermont researchers who recently concluded an evaluation of small-scale oilseed presses.
The article talks about growing and harvesting oilseeds, pressing, conversion to biodiesel, and by-product oilseed meal.
Click here to see the full article in Country Folks newspaper.
A report published this week in Nature Climate Change indicated that ethanol made from corn residue can reduce soil carbon and increase CO2 emissions, indicating the harvested leftovers from corn are “worse than gasoline for global warming,” according to the Associated Press, who released the study results.
In Vermont the term “biofuel” and “bioenergy” are commonly used to refer to woody biomass (e.g., chips and pellets), anaerobic digestion (e.g., new manure and food scrap digester at Vermont Tech), and on-farm biodiesel production.
A scale-appropriate model of local bioenergy production for in-state use is being pioneered by farmers and researchers. These emerging renewable energy resources include switch grass for heating, algae production for biofuels and wastewater management, and oilseed crops for on-farm biodiesel production, equipment use, and animal feed. Since 2003, the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative has been funding research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects—along with its partners at the University of Vermont Extension—in order to develop the infrastructure to connect diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on-farm and community use. A new website www.VermontBioenergy.com provides a series of written and video resources in these emerging fields of bioenergy.
“Local oilseed biodiesel production for local use is profoundly different from national and international models of biofuel production. While corn-based ethanol and palm oil biodiesel are gaining negative attention for their impacts on the environment and food security, biofuels that are produced and used locally help transition away from unsustainable models of food and fuel production,” states Sarah Galbraith, program manager of the Vermont Bioenergy Initiative. “Local production for local use works well in conjunction with sustainable food production.”
Vermont is particularly dependent on fossil fuels for heating and transportation, sending its energy dollars largely out of state. In the case of locally produced biodiesel, three products can be made from one crop: animal feed, organic fertilizer, and biofuel for heat, transportation, and farm equipment.
US corn-based ethanol mandates are bringing additional acres into mono-crop production, in some cases converting sensitive natural areas like native grasslands and forestland into farmland. In contrast, local bioenergy production for local use incorporates rotational crops like sunflowers and soybeans into acres already in production. Vermont farms growing oilseed crops for biodiesel production are doing so on long-established cropland in the context of diversified and sustainable food production.
The ethanol mandates are raising grain costs nationally, making feed expensive for Vermont dairy farmers. Local bioenergy production, however, means farmers produce their own feed, fuel, and fertilizer for on-farm use, at a fraction of the cost and at more stable prices.
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative’s newly launched website features an in depth look at oilseed production and biodiesel operations with case studies, research, and educational videos. The website also features similar resources for grass energy and algae for biofuel and wastewater management as well as information on other biofuels being produced and used in Vermont. www.VermontBioenergy.com
The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative draws the connection between diversified agriculture and local renewable energy production for on farm and community use. Aiming to supply farm inputs and reduce fossil fuel consumption, this program supports research, technical assistance, and infrastructure development in emerging areas of bioenergy. Since 2003 the program has focused on biodiesel production and distribution for heating and transportation, oil crops for on-farm biodiesel and feed, grass for heating, and algae for biofuels and wastewater management. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative works with biodiesel producers including State Line Biofuels and the Farm Fresh Fuel Project at Borderview Farm and grass pellet research through UVM Extension and is supported financially by US Department of Energy congressional appropriations secured by US Senator Patrick Leahy. The Vermont Bioenergy Initiative is a program of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund—a non-profit organization created by the Vermont Legislature in 1995 to accelerate the development of Vermont’s green economy in the fields of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and forestry.