USDA Rural Development, EPA partner on energy program

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WASHINGTON—Agriculture Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Gilbert Gonzalez and Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Jeff Holmstead recently announced a new interagency partnership to support agricultural and business based renewable energy systems. This agreement is part of the Bush administration’s effort to increase teamwork in delivering services to rural America.

“Today’s agreement is a triple play,” said Gonzalez. “It’s good for the environment. It helps exploit a new energy source—one with high growth potential—of clean, renewable fuel to reduce our oil imports. And it’s good for the bottom line of farmers, ranchers and small businesses.”

The agreement provides for EPA technical support to USDA in reviewing systems for methane gas recovery via anaerobic digestion of animal waste. EPA will also consult on technical guidelines for USDA Rural Development initiatives encouraging more state-of-the-art digester technologies. USDA and EPA are also investigating expanding support to other areas.

“EPA looks forward to contributing our expertise and working closely with USDA on this important issue,” said Holmstead. “We believe that through our cooperative efforts, we will be able to increase the use of anaerobic digestion technology in a way that enhances rural agricultural development, provides environmental benefits, and increases farm revenues through the generation of renewable energy.”

“Energy production is an exciting growth sector for U.S. agriculture,” said Gonzalez, “and a strong rural economy, more jobs in rural areas, renewable energy production and a cleaner environment are all key elements of President’s Bush’s agenda. USDA Rural Development is committed to aggressive leadership on these initiatives.”

In Illinois, Rural Development awarded a $242,518 energy grant in 2003 to Hunter Haven Farms near Pearl City in Carroll County to help construct a methane digester. Tom and Doug Block use the digester to treat the manure produced by their 600-head dairy operation. The methane collected from the digester powers a 140 KW generator. The electricity it produces first supplies the milk and farming operation, and the rest of the energy is sold to the grid.

Doug Wilson, Illinois director for Rural Development, welcomes the expertise EPA will bring to the energy program. “We pride ourselves on the assistance we provide applicants, and the partnership with EPA will enable us to provide a higher level of service,” Wilson said.

Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill directs USDA to encourage the development of renewable energy. USDA Rural Development implements this mandate through technical assistance, loans, and grant support to farmers, ranchers and small rural businesses. These funds support a range of technologies. In 2003-04, USDA Rural Development invested $16.9 million in 67 anaerobic digester projects. With leveraging, the total investment exceeds $80 million. These projects serve 11,300 rural households, generate 127 GWh, and create 120 jobs.

USDA Rural Development’s mission is to deliver programs in a way that will support increasing economic opportunity and improve the quality of life of rural residents. As a venture capital entity, Rural Development has invested more than $50 billion since the beginning of the Bush Administration to provide equity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development, and critical community and technology infrastructure. As a result, more than 800,000 jobs have been created or saved through these investments. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA’s Web site at

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