Greening of Ag is Just Beginning

Nor' east Thinkin'

Coming changes will bring pay-back for innovators

Published on: June 6, 2009

Remember when Dad’s advice was simple: “Just drive a straight line, son. It’ll make the corn rows straight and cultivating easier.”


Now days, steering on the contour is the train of thought and motion. Unless you’ve got autosteer, it helps to keep one eye on the e-arrow of your tractor GPS monitor, and the other eye on the flashing 12 digital columns of your planter monitor.


That’s not all that changing. We are just beginning to enter an era when farmers will be paid for capturing carbon in the soil and for firing up a generator to burn methane wafting up from cow poop. While today’s paychecks might be almost measly, they won’t be within 10 years.


Take cow poop, for example. Five years ago, I predicted that within 10 years, manure would be worth as much as milk. I know of four dairy farms in Pennsylvania, New York and Vermont that are more than 60% there – with fertilizer’s value, electricity generated by manure methane, carbon credits and compost. The handwriting is on the wall that the value of carbon credits will at more than double in the next decade.


What else is up the road


Farms are energy hogs. As energy costs rise improving machine efficiency will become even more valuable. A farm energy advisor tells me that most farms could reduce energy consumption by 50% with current technology – lighting, heating, cooling and electrical engines.


Farms or groups of farms can cost-effectively make their own biofuel or biodiesel much cheaper than they’ll be able to buy it within the next five years. Extra can be sold for home heating oil.


Even today, smaller farms would be able to generate more energy than they use on farms – and be paid or credited for it – via solar collectors and wind turbines. Many small farms in western Germany, for instance, have solitary monster wind-turbines quietly clicking their power-generating meters. Such privately-owned or community-owned windmills would serve two purposes here: It would generate local power and provide an imposing physical deterrent to property developers.


In most Northeast states, energy grant programs are opening new opportunities to save and earn money. You’ll miss many of them with a “straight and narrow” mentality. Keep at least one eye on the horizons for tomorrow’s greener future.


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