Fruit growers have been less likely than other farmers to tap into funds available under the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), but some have found opportunity.
Chip and Karla Bailey of Williamson, New York, obtained grants that helped them buy a wind turbine and an array of solar panels to provide electricity for their cold storage and employee housing.
The Baileys received $44,766 to install the wind turbine and $46,622 to install the solar photovoltaic system, according to Scott Collins, energy coordinator with the New York REAP program. Two other New York orchardists also used REAP funds for solar projects and for energy efficiency improvements.
In Michigan last year, four fruit operations obtained grants, three of them to install new monitoring systems for their cold storages and one to modernize an irrigation system, according to Rick Vanderbeek, a specialist who oversees the Michigan REAP program. In all, 61 projects worth about $2.7 million were approved in Michigan.
The big uses of REAP across the country have been by grain farmers replacing old grain-drying systems with more energy-efficient modern ones and by livestock farmers who are installing methane digesters to capture biogas from manure and use it to power electrical generators, he said.
REAP first came into being in the 2002 Farm Bill and was reauthorized in the 2008 bill. Officially, the bill authorizes $60 million a year for the program, but last year supplemental appropriations raised that to $99 million.
In many projects, outright grants of up to 25 percent of the project cost are supplemented by loans from the Rural Development Agency, which together can cover up to 75 percent of the cost of a project. Farmers need to put up 25 percent. Farmers can use grants to conduct energy audits and find ways to reduce energy use on their farms. The energy efficiency portion of the program allows farmers to improve lighting, refrigeration, insulation, processing equipment, windows, boilers, and other areas that use energy.
Vanderbeek said the applications “can be a pistol to fill out,” but that the agency has a continuous application process that helps farmers fill out the forms, or get help to do it, and file them any time. The process still has application deadlines, rating systems that evaluate the worth of proposed projects in competition with others, annual grant funding cycles, and a restriction that can eliminate agricultural projects located in more populated areas. The first step is to check the address of the proposed project.
A project application that is rejected one year may be resubmitted and may be funded in another year. The programs are state based, and each state has an allocated annual funding pool as well as access to additional national funds if they are available. Many states and electric utility companies have energy incentive programs, Vanderbeek said, and there are federal tax incentives as well.
Interested growers should contact their state’s Rural Development Agency office. A list of state contacts can be found at www.rurdev.usda.gov.