This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

December 14, 2005

USDA Announces Farm Energy Strategy and Awards Biomass Funding

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled on December 7th a comprehensive energy strategy to help farmers and ranchers deal with high energy costs. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced the formation of the USDA Energy Council to examine the department's programs and authorities and ensure they fit into a comprehensive energy strategy. The council will also ensure agricultural producers have a place at the table for national energy discussions. The USDA also launched an online energy estimator for tillage, and is co-sponsoring the Energy Agriculture Forum, which is taking place in St. Louis, Missouri, on December 14th and 15th. Forum participants will discuss new technology, programs, and initiatives that will increase energy production from agriculture. See the USDA press release and Energy Web page.

As part of its support for energy projects, the USDA awarded $1.2 million in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to eight projects involving biomass fuels, byproducts, and power. In addition, the USDA's Rural Development program plans to maximize its use of approximately $1.4 billion in various business and electric loans and loan guarantees to help farmers, ranchers, and rural communities create renewable energy systems and businesses. Since 2001, the Rural Development program has awarded nearly $290 million in renewable energy funding to support renewable energy projects such as ethanol plants and wind and solar power installations. See the USDA press releases about the SBIR grants and the USDA's energy commitments.

The USDA seems to be getting it right, according to participants in the "Forum on Energy Efficiency in Agriculture" held by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in mid-November. The USDA's increased emphasis on energy also follows recommendations from the forum. Presentations at the forum provided valuable information on saving energy in a wide variety of farming and ranching processes. See a summary of the forum and the forum presentations on the ACEEE Web site.

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