New report showcases success stories, potential of on-farm energy in Wisconsin
MADISON — An unseasonable winter and spring, a late frost and a hard-hitting drought has left Wisconsin’s agricultural markets devastated. Farmers are hurting, but investments in clean energy can help bolster their bottom lines while stabilizing costs.
“Cherries are down 93 percent, apples about 60 percent, soybeans 18 percent and corn 13 percent. Some farmers are selling their cattle because they can’t feed them,” says Katy Walter, Clean Energy Specialist with Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, investing in on-farm energy can help lower costs and boost income at a time when our farmers need it most.”
“Down on the Farm,” a new report by Clean Wisconsin, highlights five farmers around the state who have invested in clean energy. From manure digesters to wind turbines, these technologies can help farmers reduce costs, stabilize profit margins, minimize their impact on the environment and turn farm waste into a valuable commodity. “Down on the Farm” follows a recent report by the Wisconsin Bioenergy Institute (WBI) that confirms the state’s potential be a national and global leader in producing energy from waste. For instance, WBI’s report shows there is 4.77 million tons of dairy cow manure available for energy annually, which is equivalent to replacing a large-scale coal plant.
Just outside Weyauwega, Richard Wagner uses a manure digester at his Quantum Dairy to turn the waste from his 500 milking cows into clean, renewable energy. After digestion, the waste is easier to spread on fields and the nutrients are easier for the crops to absorb and utilize. Wagner saves money on bedding and receives income from the sale of electricity, carbon offsets and bedding solids. In addition, excessive heat created by the digester, combined with energy-efficiency technologies, heats the dairy’s buildings and water to clean the milk house.
“Manure digestion brings great synergies to the table for crops, the environment and a farm’s balance sheets,” says Wagner. “There is so much potential for growth and investment on dairy farms in Wisconsin.”
The report also discusses policies needed to better support on-farm energy, such as net metering and an increased renewable energy standard.
“Policies such as these will help farmers realize the full benefit of renewable energy and create an even playing field for these technologies to compete with traditional fossil fuels,” says Walter. “By working to pass policies like net metering, decision-makers can invest in Wisconsin farmers and move our state forward.”