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 March 8, 2007       


Senate Agriculture Committee

Senator Leahy

Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee



I represent a dairy farm in Franklin County Vermont which operates as a large farm under rules administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. Our herd numbers well over 1000 cows and produces 22 million lbs of milk annually. Resulting manure amounts to a waste stream of nearly 10 million gallons. Cropland for the dairy consists of 1200 tillable acres in three towns, Sheldon, Highgate, and Swanton; all in the Missisquoi Bay Watershed.

Section 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill encourages development of renewable energy. Our farm is in the process of implementing an anaerobic digester system and we expect to be online producing power by March 16. Anaerobic or Methane digesters give farms the opportunity to participate in the field of renewable energy by reidentifying the manure waste stream as a revenue stream. The system offers multiple economic benefits to the farm and provides a management tool with many positive attributes. Imagine utilizing a waste stream to produce power while creating an enhanced fertilizer and reducing odor while providing bedding material for the herd. The list goes on as we recognize multiple benefits to the environment, our society and the farm as well.

            Vermonters have adopted a positive view of methane digesters and the consensus is we need more of them. The Cow Power Program developed by a Vermont utility, Central Vermont Public Service Corporation, gives rate payers an opportunity to buy into environmental good, energy security and the working farm landscape of Vermont. The program encourages voluntary purchase of renewable energy and environmental attributes which helps support these projects. Section 9006 of the Farm Bill allows indirect public participation regarding how tax dollars are spent by demanding good for our society.

            Farmers are increasingly interested in the economic and environmental benefits of digester systems offer. Having to struggle with low milk prices, most farmers recognize the upfront capital cost puts the system beyond their reach. Section 9006 is a key component of seeing more projects move forward. Our project on completion will have cost of approximately 2 million and feasibility studies show financing wasn't possible without the 9006 grant.

In Vermont the upfront capital cost of a digester system will shape our landscape and our environment as farmers face this challenge. Section 9006 of the 2007 Farm Bill can play a critically important role helping farms overcome insurmountable odds by increasing the number of grants awarded and by raising the level of funding. Last Year nationally we saw only 8 digester projects receive a grant award which doesn't speak well for the program. Also we need to uncomplicate the process of grant funding which places too much burden on the farmer. It is clear to see why there is a shortage of manpower in government; we're spending far too many hours on redundant information. The grant proposal alone contains all information used for reference material.   

It is a real challenge to write a grant proposal requiring long hours and a firm commitment to the goal. While it is a fine thing to be awarded a grant it is quite something else to qualify the money for reimbursement. Our project is nearly complete and to date we haven't received one dime of the USDA award. Something is clearly wrong with the process if a project budget is contingent on a grant that can't be paid out until after the project is up and running. The USDA grant money awarded under section 9006 has to be qualified and requires proof of payment before it can be reimbursed. The 9006 program falls well short of the mark since grant money arrives too late in the process to maximize its intended value and actually creates a heightened burden on the farmer. Please keep on mind that a failed digester project would likely mean a failed farm. Under current rules of section 9006 I would not expect most farms capable of making the effort or assuming the burden these projects place on them. We are farmers, we work long hours, take pride in our work and look for a common sense approach to matters.   The process is simply too complicated and does not function as intended.

           In striving to do something positive for ourselves and everyone else lets first recognize that our society has embraced the idea of renewable energy or green power, of environmental good and of energy independence. Next let's recognize dairy farmers for the past year have produced milk for 5 dollars per hundred weight less than the previous year, a one million dollar shortfall for our farm alone. Finally, let's recognize feedstock, grains are a valuable resource and corn has recently doubled in price largely due to ethanol production. Last year we planted 80 million acres of corn in the US and harvested over 300 million tons. This year we expect to plant an additional 10 million acres of corn, harvest 13 billion bushels and with proposed ethanol plants coming on line, will still fall short of our needs.

          Our country needs to protect its resources by investing in infrastructure that will promote our society with the benefits it demands. We have to recognize our role as stewards and hopefully leave this place as good or better than we found it, otherwise we are sure to fail.

Thank you for responsible leadership and please visit our facility.

                  Respectfully submitted,

                            Willard "Bill" Rowell

                            Green Mountain Dairy Farm

                            Sheldon, Vermont

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