By Megan Denardo and Renee Stearns, Program Specialists
On June 27th, members of New England Farm Energy Collaborative (NEFEC) met for their annual gathering. Those in attendance included representatives from the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural resources, the Connecticut Farm Energy Program, Efficiency Vermont, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, the USDA’s Rural Development office, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Center for EcoTechnology.
The gathering began with a short meeting to give updates about the farm energy programs and any big news in each state. The partners focused on sharing ideas to help other states improve their programs, as well as looking for ways to collaborate. Some topics of note were anaerobic digesters, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant, how to improve funding for robotics on farms, and the status of energy efficiency programs for farms in each state.
The attendees then toured five Massachusetts farms that are each doing something innovative and interesting with their farming practices. Barstow’s Longview Farm in Hadley was the first stop. As well as a brief anaerobic digester tour, the farm showed off their robotic milking equipment. The addition of robotics to the farm not only allows for more work to be done in a day, it has also increased milk production and improved the health of the herd. A tracking system that works in conjunction with the robot monitors the cows’ vitals, and alerts the farmer if there is a problem, and when milking has been completed with each cow.
The next stop was just a short car ride away at the UMass Amherst Crop and Animal Research and Education Center in South Deerfield. Experiments are underway at this location involving their Agriculture and Solar Energy Dual Use Research Project, which is constructing solar arrays in such a way as to allow for agricultural activity to take place under the equipment. Currently, crops are planted beneath the solar array, but the space can also be used for grazing animals. The UMass research team is working on determining which crops grow well beneath solar panels, what the optimal distance between panels is for this growth, and how far apart the rows of panels need to be in order to be able to get machinery between them. Crops that are showing the most potential are kale, broccoli, and swiss chard.
After the tourgoers fished up their Barstow’s farm stand-made lunch, the tour continued to Happy Valley Organics in South Deerfield. Inside their greenhouses, this farm uses specialized light-emitting diode (LED) technology. A specific red/blue spectrum, the most efficient light colors for plants, is used to grow acres of organic basil for sale to many major supermarkets including Whole Foods, Big Y, and Shaw’s.
Despite a hail storm and lighting, the clouds parted long enough to tour Red Fire Farm. Red Fire farm operates two locations: Granby and Montague. Their Montague location utilizes an energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system to store their produce throughout the year. This decrease in dependency on an outside energy source allowed Red Fire Farm to expand their cold storage capacity to match the production of the 110-acre farm, and prevents food loss during equipment failure.
Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield was the final stop. This farm also features an energy-producing anaerobic digester, though their system is younger than the one at Barstow’s and not fully online yet. On-farm waste, such as manure, combines in the digester with food waste to produce energy. This renewable energy will be fed back to the farm to help power the daily production of 1,700 gallons of milk.
The conclusion of the tour ended in laughter, exchanging of ideas, and positive thoughts for next year’s gathering. If you would like to learn more about a farm energy program in your New England state, please contact the Massachusetts Farm Energy Program (MFEP) at 413.727.3090 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have any questions about the above technologies or if your farm has a project in mind, is in need of an energy audit, would like help identifying potential funding sources, or is in need of assistance writing grant applications, contact MFEP at 413.727.3090 or email@example.com.
Edit: It was stated that Barstow’s Longview Farm was located in South Hadley in an earlier edition of this post.