With gas prices high and rising tensions in the Middle East, some are expecting an average of $5 per gallon (or even higher), nationwide this summer. These high energy costs and volatility are a drag on our economy. As Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently said, “Stable energy costs are a prime factor in an employer’s decision to expand a business or hire new workers.”
Well, last week United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report highlighting the ways in which their Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) contributes to U.S. energy independence and helps rural small businesses and farmers become more energy efficient. The evidence is in, and it clearly shows that REAP is a program with proven benefits to the rural economy, the environment, and our national security. The report tallies the projects in which 13,000 of America’s farmers and small rural businesses have been encouraged to improve their bottom line by investing in energy efficient solutions that spur economic growth and prosperity in rural America.
According to USDA, since 2008, REAP has:
- Supported 5,733 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide;
- Generated or saved an estimated 6,500 megawatt hours of power;
- Provided $192 million in grants and $165 million in loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business owners for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements; and
- Fostered partnerships that have leveraged an estimated $800 million from other sources.
In the Southeast, a good example of REAP’s benefits can be found on the Reedy Fork Farm in Guilford County, North Carolina. This fifth-generation family owned and operated dairy farm produces cows milk for a major certified organic brand. To do this, the Teagues must grind and mix their own organic grain. Prior to their REAP grant they were running a diesel engine to power their feed mixing and grinding, in separate processes. With the encouragement of a small cost-share grant from USDA, they were able to purchase a much more energy efficient and less polluting electric system that does both grinding and mixing. The Teagues enlisted the help of AgriEsco Inc., an engineering firm that found this switch from diesel to electric grinding would save 93% of the energy they were previously using, and would pay for itself in less than 4 years. Now the Teagues offer organic feed to other farmers in a state where supplies of organic feed are difficult to find. (Follow these links for more success stories in the Southeast and in conventional agriculture.)
Success stories like the Teagues’ make it clear that slashing REAP at this time would be counter to America’s efforts to wean ourselves of foreign oil, restore our economy, and clean-up the environment. REAP is a keeper, and Farm Bill lawmakers would be negligent to cut its mandatory funding.