Rural areas, farmers need more energy efficiency funds, report says

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2013 - Rural communities, and especially farmers, could benefit significantly from increased USDA resources and funding for energy efficiency, according to a report released today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

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The report, which provides an overview of the various programs at USDA that address energy use in rural America, said a small investment in energy efficiency could produce more “bang for the buck” in terms of lower electricity and fuel costs.

“This investment will benefit cash-strapped farmers who generally operate on very tight profit margins and without large cash reserves, as well as rural businesses and homeowners who face the challenges associated with being located in low population density areas,” the report said.

Many farmers operate in a precarious financial situation, as the average American farmer is 57 years old and has a take-home income of about $29,000 annually, the report said.

“Farmers have many expenses, including chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides, farm labor, and seed, as well as energy expenses, like lighting and diesel fuel for equipment,” the report said. “If farm expenditures can be lowered through energy efficiency, then the chances of a farm being profitable increases.”

The report examined several USDA energy-related programs including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), which offers financial assistance to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy developments in rural America.

ACEEE found the REAP application process cumbersome, and prone to irregular distribution of funds. It said certain areas might get significantly higher levels of funding than others, such as chicken growers in Mississippi and corn farmers in Iowa, because local USDA offices “happened to have an employee that was knowledgeable about REAP.”

Overall, the report found that energy efficiency programs should be expanded and funded “more generously,” but acknowledged the tough fiscal situation surrounding farm bill negotiations.

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