Ask Farm Aid | June 2, 2006

What kind of work is Farm Aid doing with biodiesel?

June 2006

Hey Laura,
What kind of work is Farm Aid doing with biodiesel? I see Willie in the news talking about it; is this a new part of Farm Aid?

Frank Benderson
Topeka, KS


Talk of alternative energy is everywhere – from the president’s State of the Union to the Oscars.

People all over are scrambling to figure out how alternatives to fossil fuels will work in our day-to-day lives. Environmentalists, corporate executives, celebrities and especially farmers are all trying to puzzle out how to meet the growing demand for renewable fuels. In business terms, I have seen this growing industry compared to the dot com boom of the 90’s: this is a world of exciting new technology with lots of potential.

So, to start the answer to your question: Willie’s very excited about alternative energy (which I think you may have gleaned over the past few years) and Farm Aid is working hard to learn as much as possible about this fascinating topic. However, this issue is very complex and we know from our conversations with farmers that alternatives need to be carefully considered in order to guarantee the basic ideals of economic and environmental sustainability — fair prices for selling a high value crop locally and polluting less.

With this warning in mind, Farm Aid has channeled funds to five organizations across the country that are working to promote alternative energy and the interests of farmers and rural communities. At these very early stages of production and infrastructure building, we believe that grassroots organizations — the people on the ground — are one excellent place to begin learning about best practices, solid public policy, inherent concerns and genuine benefits.

Farm Aid has yet to launch a particular project or campaign around alternative energy but our grants to these organizations have allowed us to deepen our understanding of its production and uses. At the same time, we have been able to support some very concrete resources that farmers can use to learn about the possible benefits of alternative energy production and on-farm usages. Check out some of these projects:

American Corn Growers, Washington, D.C.
The American Corn Growers conduct a series of workshops throughout the Midwest and other key agricultural states on renewable energy from the farm. This farmer to farmer education series covers biodiesel, ethanol, bio-mass and wind power production and practical applications.

Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), Billings, Mont.
The Clean Renewable Fuel From Farms Campaign will use public education, research, on-farm workshops, grassroots organizing and public policy efforts to accomplish the following goals: Convert the transportation fleets of 10 cities, towns or campuses, from fossil fuels to biofuels within two years; secure incentives for production and use of biofuels, and ensure that rural communities and farmers are benefited by these transitions; and last but not least increase on-farm use of biofuels.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, Minn.
The Biomass for Biofuels Project was launched to create and implement sustainability standards for those crops that are most likely to be used for production of biofuels. Without these standards, the use of fossil fuel based inputs, like fertilizer and equipment fuels, counteract the environmental impact of using biofuels in the first place. This project also seeks to improve the economic well being of the countryside by ensuring that farmers are able to sell biomass crops locally and get a fair price.

National Center for Appropriate Technology, Butte, Mont.
The Electric Farm Energy Tool Evaluation Project gives farmers broad access to web-based decision-making tools that can help reduce energy cost and use. These tools will also educate farmers about sustainable crop production and local marketing.

Further Reading

For more information on biofuels, read “Biofuels or Bust: Making the Bioeconomy Sustainable for Farmers and the Land” by Jim Kleinschmit of the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Mark Smith of Farm Aid

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