USDA Rural Development


USDA Rural Development Invites Applications for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects Agricultural Producers in Non-rural Areas are Now Eligible, Funding May Be Used for Flex-Fuel Pumps

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 14, 2011 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today invited agricultural producers and rural small businesses to apply for loans and grants to implement renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.

"Biofuels and other renewable energy sources present an enormous economic opportunity for rural America and the rest of the nation," Vilsack said. "President Obama and I recognize that we need to win the future by implementing a long-term strategy to meet our country's current and long-term energy needs. The funding I am announcing today will help make America's farmers, ranchers and rural businesses more energy efficient."

USDA is providing funding for up to $61 million in guaranteed loans and $42 million in grants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Funds are available to help agricultural producers and rural small businesses develop renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and conduct studies to determine the feasibility of renewable energy systems.

Today USDA issued a rule to clarify that the definition of renewable energy systems in REAP includes flexible fuel pumps, sometimes referred to as "blender pumps." This clarification is intended to provide fuel station owners with incentives to install flexible fuel pumps that will offer Americans more renewable energy options. The Obama administration has set a goal of installing 10,000 flexible fuel pumps nationwide within 5 years.

The rule also makes the following clarifications:

  • Grants are available for audits of energy improvements and studies to determine the feasibility of renewable energy systems; and
  • Agricultural producers in non-rural areas are eligible for REAP assistance. Small businesses must still be located in rural areas. This clarification makes REAP eligibility requirements consistent with those of other USDA energy programs.

Since Rural Development's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs were launched in 2003, they have played a key role in helping more than 6,000 local businesses create jobs and make energy efficiency improvements. Under REAP, local businesses receive assistance to deploy wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. For example, Pagel Ponderosa and partner business Dairy Dreams in Kewaunee County, Wis., used REAP funds to help purchase and install anaerobic digesters. Both businesses use the energy generated from their digesters to run their operations and sell excess power back to the grid. The two digesters have become so successful that along with two wind farms operating in the county they are generating enough electricity to support all of the county's 8,900 households.

The deadlines for submitting completed REAP applications are June 15 and June 30, depending on the type of project to be funded. For information on how to apply for assistance, contact your local USDA Rural Development office or see page 20943 of the April 14 Federal Register, A list of USDA offices is available at

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America. Rural Development has an existing portfolio of nearly $149 billion in loans and loan guarantees. Visit for additional information about the agency's programs or to locate the USDA Rural Development office nearest you.



Work Hard, Change, Cooperate: The USDA Comes to Town
Work Hard, Change, Cooperate: The USDA Comes to Town  011211

The Director of USDA Rural Development, California, Dr. Glenda Humiston visited Sierra County on Tuesday, 11 January 2011.  Your editor, long suffering and trained like a fine dog to sit and stay for long periods, attended.  

The press gets invited to a lot of dog-and-pony shows, and I was prepared for this to be just one more of those; fervent, eager people with Powerpoint presentations, warning us about creepy critters or whatnot.

Tuesday’s discussion was very different from that.

Glenda Humiston has her “dirt road creds.”  She’s from a rural area, her family is still struggling to save the farm.  She’s got lots of experience in rural development, and she’s mighty damn smart.

The Director of USDA Rural Development for California is visiting the counties, mostly presenting in person much of the information contained in this document.

For about an hour Dr. Humiston discussed the problems identified in the study, and various programs and funding sources available to solve some rural problems.

Not surprisingly, issues like broadband access and technical assistance and especially funding and loans, are important to Sierra County as they are to all rural California counties.  Our assets include poverty and plenty of brush and small trees.  Prospect readers won’t be surprised to hear biomass, and in particular wood to motor fuel production, are important to our future, and to the continuation of Loyalton.  

She brought up some interesting ecological details which are impacting our well-being.  One big one: a “county” in the Eastern states is very small; in the West some counties are bigger than whole Eastern states.  That leaves us at a significant disadvantage.

There were charts, some very disturbing, such as the chart which showed the increase in ag families but the decrease in ag related income.  People are making money working in town, and by using ag land for other purposes, such as hunting clubs.  It’s been true for a long time, but never truer than now: the American rancher and farmer family is having a hard time while producing cheap, wholesome food.  

Dr. Humiston wasn’t blowing smoke; her solutions ring true because they contain risk, hard work, planning and cooperation.  She suggested taking advantage of our location.  Jim Turner, SPI Cogen manager and stalwart supporter of biofuel projects discussed several opportunities, including using hot water to grow plants.  Dr. Humiston suggested tomatoes; we suggest fine mountain grown cannabis for the central and southern California market.

Jim Turner brought up a critical problem: bonding and insurance requirements which prevent some local contractors from taking jobs at SPI and elsewhere.  Humiston suggested co-oping as a way for local contractors to reduce bonding costs.  

Some attendees were dubious of Dr. Humiston’s optimism, but that’s because we’ve been told a lot of stories by a lot of sailors in this part of the world.  Some people brought up their same old tired rants, but Dr. Humiston deflected most of those.  

I found the presentation refreshing, though I did doze through a little of it.  I most enjoyed the give and take between the Director and the attendees.  I was impressed with how comfortable she was in the Loyalton Social Hall, and how happy she was to entertain any discussion which was on-topic.  I found her discussion to be sobering.  Several times she told us the blunt truth: the old jobs aren’t coming back, you better think of something new; there are a lot of little towns dying, and there are a lot of people with big but unworkable ideas.  

Sierra County could pull itself from the current “recession” but it will require us to move as a community, to change our minds about what constitutes a “good job” and to cooperate in new ways.

We are certain Dr. Humiston is right, because that’s what the Prospect has been saying for a couple of years now. 

What to do next: People are doing it in small groups, working on biomass production, hazard fuel removal, the Loyalton Cogen plant, and even wood to liquid fuel.  Now, we cooperate.

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