Pioneer Valley farms receive energy grants
ORANGE — Like most dairy farmers, George Hunt Jr. says his family’s operation is struggling to keep up with rising feed and energy costs.
“You try to do what you can to get by,” says Hunt, who got good news last week from the state, with a $20,000 grant toward a 54.45-kilowatt photovoltaic system that will provide for all the Hunt Farm’s electricity needs, and then some.
The grant, one of five Agricultural Energy Grants awarded in Franklin County and 27 statewide by the state Department of Agricultural Resources, will provide less than 8 percent of the $260,000 photovoltaic system that the Hunts hope to install on their dairy barn along South Main Street.
“In theory, it should provide twice as much as what we need for the farm,” he said, with the rest being sold back to the power grid and making the investment pay for itself in five or six years.
The grants, all of which will go to implement renewable energy systems and improve energy efficiency on farms, also included $17,500 to Warner Farm in Sunderland, which will use the money for a 9.8-kilowatt PV system and a walk-in cooler.
Other recipients were Coombs Hill Farm in Colrain, with $8,705 toward the cost of a variable speed pump; to Long Plain Farm in Whately, which will receive $15,000 toward an outdoor wood boiler, and Williams Farm in Deerfield, which will get $21,500 for a steam hood and for natural gas conversion.
Hunt, whose family milks a herd of 108 cows, said grain prices have shot up by 25 percent from a year ago, to $3,000 a week, and diesel prices have also been hard to keep up with.
All told, he guessed, it costs $27 to produce a dozen-gallon 100 pounds of milk, for which the current federally regulated price is just a little over $19.
Dairy farmers are also facing the bad news that because Congress has failed to pass a new farm bill, a key safety net to compensate for losses in milk payments, the Milk Income Loss Contract program, expired Sept. 30. The program has helped provide $2,000 to $4,000 a month for the farm at a time when milk prices have stayed far below the cost of production.
The farm is also applying to the town Planning Board to install two ground-mounted photovoltaic solar arrays, one a 2-megawatt, the other a 3-megawatt system, in a lease arrangement to bring in additional income.