If You want to make your farm more energy efficient, you may qualify for a grant from a new federal energy program. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), passed as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance for new renewable energy systems or energy efficiency improvements.

REAP grants can be used to fund up to 25% of a project's total eligible costs and are limited to $500,000 for renewable energy projects or $250,000 for energy efficiency improvements.

Ray Rainwater, who farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans near Rochelle, IL, learned about REAP in November 2007 when talking with his local Farm Service Agency director. He found that he would be eligible for a grant to improve the energy efficiency of his grain dryer.

Rainwater replaced a grain dryer that had been installed in 1972 with a new dryer that uses liquefied petroleum gas (propane). With his old dryer, he could dry 650 bu. of corn/hr.; now he can dry 1,000 bu./hr.

10% savings

Rainwater figures that he has cut 10% off his propane bill and that the newer, more efficient equipment has improved throughput time. Many grain dryers already run on propane because of its efficiency. Ninety percent of all propane drawn from tanks is converted to energy, reports the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), Washington, DC.

PERC states that with a propane generator, grain drying and storage are not dependent on the electric grid. The council adds that propane is nontoxic and insoluble in water, posing no threat to aquifers, groundwater supply, soil or livestock. Moreover, a PERC study shows that using propane in certain applications produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than do many other fuels.

Although Rainwater says it was difficult to assign a value to improved throughput time, it was especially valuable last year because he had corn with moisture levels of 25 to 26%. In fact, some corn in his area of north-central Illinois had not yet been harvested in mid December due to weather conditions that kept corn at high moisture levels.

Rainwater used his propane tank to fuel an anhydrous ammonia sprayer as well. Once he was finished with the propane, his supplier pumped out the excess fuel and credited the remaining amount to his account.

Good records required

Rainwater says that the REAP grant financed a quarter of the cost of his new grain dryer, a guaranteed loan from the USDA covered another quarter of the cost, and the remaining cost was financed through a bank loan.

He found the REAP grant to be helpful and advises other producers to go into the project with good records. “If you have a good handle on your cost per bushel, gallons used and hours of operation, it's not hard to apply for a grant,” he states. “We were advised to work with an energy consultant and a grant writer. There is a lot of paperwork involved.”

Since installing the new dryer, Rainwater has kept a daily log and has tested corn moisture on a regular basis. He also records weather conditions and any adjustments to the dryer.

Overall, Rainwater is pleased with the new dryer but thinks it could be tweaked a bit more to get even better efficiency. “We could adjust to higher temperatures to lower the energy cost per bushel,” he says.

If you plan to purchase or replace equipment with more efficient units, you may be eligible for a REAP grant. The program also would help finance the purchase of insulation or retrofit lighting. Contact your USDA Rural Development state office for help in determining your eligibility (www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/farmbill).

USDA recommends that you use templates to complete your application more easily. You can obtain these templates from the state rural energy contact. An application will require detailed information about the projects and about your operation.

System installers or contractors should be able to provide most of the technical information required for the application. USDA has guidelines to help clarify the technical requirements.