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 Spring Growth 2008: Energy, Climate and Agriculture Minimize

Russ Libby, MOFGA’s executive director, opened MOFGA’s 2008 Spring Growth Conference in March by asking, “What are the implications of changing energy prices and changing climate on Maine farmers?” He acknowledged Maine Rural Partners and the Risk Management Agency for underwriting the cost of the conference.

Climate Change, Species Change

George Jacobson, state climatologist and professor of quaternary biology at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, is preparing a report for the state on how climate change will affect us in the next 100 years. Illustrating the effects of climate change, he noted that agriculture began during a warming period at the end of the last Ice Age, in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, in South America, and elsewhere.

Weather varies naturally over about 10-year cycles, as well as over longer periods, such as El Nino, Jacobson continued. Good temperature records based on thermometers go back only a little over 100 years, but before that, people recorded weather information to help determine safe planting dates. Farmers and many church ministers kept daily diaries of weather, sometimes for 30 or 40 years for given places in New England. A colleague, David Smith, got the first National Science Foundation grant given to a historian to study such records from over 500 people, and he’s still mining the information.

These records show that in the middle of the 19th century, the growing season was very short for over a decade. Around the turn of the century, the variability seems to have decreased, and for some 40 years, the growing season was relatively and consistently long—which “would make a big difference to people dealing with the land.”

Looking at longer periods, however, shows that in the last 150 years or so, and especially in the last two decades, the temperature has become significantly warmer. Before that, for most of the past 1,000 years, the climate in the northern hemisphere was cooler – especially from about 1450 AD to 1850 AD, which was consistently cooler and is often called the Little Ice Age. A rapid increase in temperature started around 1850. Before that, going back 20,000 years, a significant amount of ice sometimes covered parts of the earth, including Maine. “It’s striking how few times in the past couple of million years was anywhere near as warm as the recent 10,000 year period,” said Jacobson.

Levels of atmospheric CO2 are dramatically higher now than they were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, according to ice core samples studied at the Climate Change Institute. “It’s highly unlikely, in my opinion,” said Jacobson, “that we won’t at least double or probably triple the natural background levels of CO2 in the atmosphere during this century. Human behavior isn’t changing quite fast enough.”

These climatic variations influence plants. Jacobson has studied pollen grains from various levels of lake sediments and, using carbon dating, mapped distributions of species over time. He’s found drastic changes as the climate warmed and ice melted. Jack pine, probably the northernmost pine in Maine now (its southernmost locale currently is on Mt. Desert Island), was in northern Georgia at the peak of the last Ice Age, 18,000 years ago.

Smaller climatic changes over the past few thousand years have strongly influenced the abundance of individual species. From about 9,000 to 4,000 or 5,000 years ago, far more white pine was present than in the mid-1800s when so much white pine logging occurred. Starting 4,000 years ago, white pine became less and less abundant because the cooler, moister climate favored other species, such as spruce. So temperature changes of 2 to 6 degrees C. are very significant, and the difference between an ice age and an interglacial period is only 6 degrees C. “We’re at least talking about moving to a climate zone [for farming and gardening] that’s like Connecticut, but it could be – I hate to even say it – New Jersey,” said Jacobson.

“Models also suggest that the northern latitudes will have the greatest warming” – already noticeable as permafrost breaks up in Alaska and sea ice disappears in the Arctic Ocean, which may be free of ice in the summer as early as 2013.

These are facts, Jacobson concluded: Humans are adding large amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, and we’ll almost certainly increase the natural background level by a factor of two or three in this century. Greenhouse gases trap heat, so temperatures will likely get warmer. Ask naysayers, said Jacobson, if they think it’s a good idea if we increase CO2 in the atmosphere by a factor of three.

Maine will likely be warmer for the next century or two at least. “We can imagine that the composition of the forest will be changing, although it’s a complicated process. Perhaps there will be more conditions that favor white pines, for example. It’s very likely that oaks and other hardwoods that are more common in the southern part of the state and in [other parts of] New England would do well here; and probably, in the long run, less spruce and fir. There could also be greater biomass production.”

Asked what the earth looked like the last time it had this much C in the atmosphere, Jacobson said that for at least the last 2.5 million years, it was probably never in the territory where we’re headed now. During the Carboniferous Period, the earth was quite a bit warmer, because there was more CO2, and tropical rainforest-like conditions covered a much greater region than today. Photosynthesis in these forests was removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and big bogs or swamps were being formed where vegetation, rather than decomposing every year, got buried, and those deposits became coal and oil--a dramatic case of carbon being sequestered through a natural process.

Asked if his climate change projections reflect increased CO2 being put out by China and India, Jacobson said they do. China has most of the world’s coal deposits, and India has quite a lot. “We have to figure out globally how to deal with this so that we can come to some kind of a gentle solution.”

Asked if the Gulf Stream will be disrupted, Jacobson noted that the Gulf Stream has stopped flowing to the northern North Atlantic before (at the end of the last Ice Age, for example), almost certainly because massive amounts of ice sheets melted into the northern North Atlantic. So heat was no longer carried, especially to northwestern Europe. Even eastern Maine and the Maritimes were affected for about 1,000 years around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago. “Things got very cold all of a sudden without the warm Gulf Stream.” Today, it “doesn’t appear to me very likely that melt water, just from Greenland, would cause an equivalent thing. The process at the end of the last Ice Age included very rapid melting of massive ice sheets that covered North America and Northern Europe.”

Regenerate Soils

Timothy LaSalle, CEO of Rodale Institute, said that the big issues for the future are climate change, available clean water, nutrition, and famine prevention—and the Institute is conducting research, outreach and education, and policy work on all four. It has revamped its Web site and offers a free, 15-hour, online course in transitioning from conventional to organic agriculture.

Among the issues and disconnects facing our species, LaSalle mentioned these:

Calling a growing economy a “healthy” economy dissociates economic theory from the planet, the resource base. “There has to be a reconnection of economic theory that goes to regenerative, sustainability conversations. Otherwise, there’s an end”—which is where we’re headed: “We now need three and one-half planets to sustain our current consumption patterns.

We humans are called “consumers” when we are really “destroyers” but should be “regenerators.”

We are losing 1% of our topsoil per year--4 tons per person on the planet per year.

The increased demand for technology, such as iPhones and computers, will lead to further unsustainability.

Questioning world population is “taboo.” The beginning of agriculture spurred population growth, as did use of fossil energy combined with the Industrial Revolution. “How can we transition to a sustainable population level?” LaSalle asked.

China exports mercury (from its coal-fired plants) to Oregon, poisoning streams. “We cannot sustain this kind of development, period.”

Farm chemicals that created the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico may have contributed to heating that water, intensifying Hurricane Katrina.

Regenerating soils so that they sequester carbon while providing healthful farm products is the solution to many of the world’s problems. LaSalle added “regenerate” to the list of R words – reduce, reuse, recycle. (Buying locally creates another R word, “relocalize,” said LaSalle; other possibilities include “rethink” and “refuse” – to buy.)

In Rodale’s 28-year comparison of conventional agricultural plots with manure-compost plots and green manure cover crop plots, “the organic soils are darker and contain a lot more organic matter. One pound of carbon in that soil holds 40 pounds of water. It opens the soil up so the organic matter can breathe, and greatly enhances the biology. We know that the mycorrhizal fungi is perhaps one of the most important organisms or mechanisms in that soil that actually sequester carbon and take it down up to 2 1/2 feet.”

LaSalle criticized genetic engineers who want to create drought resistant plants. “They are drought-resistant already. We just go back to the natural methodologies of what nature knows how to do, and get the biology going in that soil. The mycorrhizal fungi reach out for the moisture and nutrients to feed the plant so it can live off the plant. You’ve got to get a lot of mycorrhizae running, and they do very well with organic matter.”

Synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, speed microbial action that breaks down organic matter, so mycorrhizae disappear, organic matter volatilizes, and C returns to the atmosphere. Some soils in University of Illinois 100-year field trials started with 20% C; synthetic fertilizers reduced some of them to 1 to 2%. “Agriculture’s been one of the prime contributors to carbon in the atmosphere”—from releasing organic matter and from using fuels, fertilizers and pesticides – but “regenerative agriculture, combined with sustainable forestry, can be the biggest single way to get the most C out of the atmosphere” – possibly sequestering up to 3,500 pounds of C per acre, said LaSalle.

LaSalle gave rice cultivation as an example of great potential change. The crop is now grown in standing water to suppress weeds. Those saturated, anaerobic soils produce methane, a major greenhouse gas. “Get rid of standing water, get the fertilizers out of the system, and get organic matter into the soil. And don’t plant it so close together; you get a bigger, more productive, more typhoon-resistant rice plant.” [This is called the System of Rice Intensification; see ciifad.cornell.edu/sri/]

In Rodale’s studies, organic crops greatly out-produce conventional in drought years and in wet years, and are competitive in “normal” years. Organic food, said LaSalle, has higher nutrient density, greater antioxidant levels, and, according to the University of Wisconsin, it increased immunological response in the body and increased organ health and reproductive fitness – while using a lot less fuel for its growth.

“Organic farming could be saving the government lots of money if they’d invest in it,” said LaSalle, through environmental and health benefits.

LaSalle said, “We should pay our farmers handsomely to work to save the planet – the soil, waters and atmosphere; to care for that soil, regenerate it, rebuild it.” He recommended Chris Bedford’s video The Organic Opportunity, which shows how an area can shift to local, organic foods. (See localharvest.org/store)

Asked about the World Bank’s push to get African countries to grow more food using synthetic chemical fertilizers, LaSalle said that the Gates Foundation is doing the same thing, but Rodale is trying to tell the Foundation why sustainable, regenerative agriculture would be better. Rodale also has a regenerative agriculture project with a women’s group in Malawi.

Maine Resources

Maine Rural Partners, said its director, Mary Ann Hayes, works where farms, agriculture and energy meet. About two years ago it formed the Farm Energy Partners Network to offer resources and education about energy.

Hayes introduced Spring Growth panelists Tim Clark with Efficiency Maine; John Blais with the Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District; and agronomist Lauchlin Titus, coordinator of the Farm Energy Partners Network.

Clark said that Efficiency Maine, a statewide program administered by the Maine Public Utility Commission, has saved millions of kilowatts annually over five years. Any business, school, individual, etc., who pays an electric bill can participate in its programs, which include:

• learning how to reduce energy costs;

• helping low-income customers replace energy-inefficient appliances;

• working with new schools;

• educating K-12 students about energy efficiency;

• offering incentives for solar units;

• helping purchase new technology, covering the cost difference, for example, between an inefficient vacuum pump and a more efficient one with variable speed drives; or a fan with a variable speed motor;

• researching technologies to determine if they’re cost-effective and if funds are available to help with purchases;

• providing incentives for equipment replacement (including installation), such as more efficient greenhouse lighting or more efficient buildings;

• doing energy audits for farms;

• leveraging low-interest loans to purchase new infrastructure on farms.

John Blais talked about Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District’s two-year Conservation Innovation grant for making Kennebec County dairy farms more efficient, specifically regarding fixed energy costs. After an audit, suggested improvements may include variable speed drive motors; more efficient lighting, water heating (through preheating, for instance) and milk cooling; and better equipment maintenance. For example, if water coming into a precooler is high in iron or manganese, a water softener may make that system more efficient.

Lauchlin Titus suggested that farmers:

• buy a tire pressure gauge and check tractor tire slippage with a tape measure to utilize the power of the tractor as efficiently as possible for different tasks, such as tillage and making hay. (Farm Energy Partners will mail farmers a CD showing how to do this.)

• gear up and throttle down: Go as fast as you can (within reason) so that your equipment has adequate power to do the job at hand. “If you’re going to run that piece of equipment for four hours and you can run it for three and a half, you’ve probably saved a buck.”

• change air and oil filters regularly;

• check the owner’s manual for your tractor for the proper oil viscosity for that piece of equipment and for that season and task. A 5W-30 oil for winter use should be changed to a lighter weight for summer;

• remove chaff from the radiator;

• think about how to reduce a tillage pass;

• extend the grazing season. If you’re grazing animals from May through the end of September, “I challenge you to find two weeks to four weeks on both ends of that” instead of making hay and lugging feed for those few weeks.

State Plans

John Kerry, director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, said that the state is addressing energy issues through a two-year action plan and a long-term energy plan that includes every source of energy the state uses and includes technological, economic and cultural aspects. Measures being considered include strengthening energy efficiency and conservation; promoting renewable energy and biofuels (including, possibly, a refinery in Maine); getting more energy from Canada (from hydropower); maximizing wind power; and improving transmission lines.

The most promising areas now are providing information and encouraging wind power development and local ownership of wind power rather than relying on outside investors. “Wind is going to play a very big part in the state of Maine, onshore and offshore,” Kerry said. He imparted a sense of urgency in adopting such measures, but Russ Libby said that the state’s sense of urgency was about five levels below that of everyone at Spring Growth. Solutions require access to capital, said Libby, and all of us working together, rather than relying on Wall Street.

Biofuels

Peter Sexton of UMaine Cooperative Extension discussed a pilot study of growing canola for biofuel. Maine uses about 700 million gallons of fuel per year, most for residential heating oil, he said, and producing 1 million gallons of canola oil to make into biodiesel would require about 12,000 acres. Given the costs of growing and of processing canola oil into biodiesel, Sexton concluded that burning straight vegetable oil (rather than converting it to biodiesel, using a somewhat dangerous process) might be more economical - but that engines probably would have to be modified to use the oil. Dairy farmers who can crush canola seed and use the seed meal in cows’ feed might consider using the oil.

Regarding energy crops, Sexton predicted that first we’ll use what we have, including herbicide resistant crops and moving toward low-till or no-till crops. Winter canola might be one crop to try in Maine, and production systems for sugar beets are already in place. Over decades, he thinks that varieties will be selected for efficient energy production, such as low-protein corn and high oil-content soybeans, and eventually perennial-based systems will take hold.

An ideal energy crop has low input requirements, is adapted to large areas, is easily managed, harvested and processed, is perennial, and its cultivation causes little erosion, he added. Examples may include willows, hazelnuts, butternuts and black walnuts. Sexton sees potential in breeding trees for oil production. People in the Northwest are working on perennial winter rye, and perennial wheat might also be grown.

Ralph and Lisa Turner have 12,000 square feet of greenhouses growing vegetables in Freeport, as well as several acres of vegetables and cut flowers growing outdoors. Ralph is on the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) biodiesel task force. If you don’t make biodiesel according to ASTM standards, he believes that you’re not making biodiesel, “and there is a risk to people’s personal property if you use that stuff.”

While Turner generally supports biodiesel production, making it from waste vegetable oil requires some toxic and dangerous inputs; cuts BTU content by about 10%; and costs about $2.25 to $3.50 per gallon to make correctly, ignoring the cost of the raw material.

With a development grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, the Turners demonstrated using local waste vegetable oil to heat greenhouses. People have long burned waste vegetable oil, sometimes mixed with #10 oil, in industrial burners, but the Turners were the first to study the process for a small, commercial, light industrial scale. “It’s not a perfect system,” they learned over five years.

Maine uses 450 million gallons of heating oil fuel per year and about 150 million gallons of transportation fuel. The total available triglyceride-based fuels in Maine may be 4.5 million gallons per year. “So, we are not going to solve the world’s energy problems with this or with biodiesel,” but “if your energy input is low, then…why not do the most energy-efficient thing first?”

Turner collects waste oil in 55-gallon drums from restaurants. In the winter they heat the drums on a radiant-heated floor to melt the oil. The next day the oil is warm enough to pump out, strain, and pump into insulated, heated settling tanks, where it sits for 24 to 36 hours. After that, the water, food and other debris have settled to the bottom, and 3 inches from the bottom is clean oil, which they pump into their slightly heated and insulated day tank, and then, using compressed air to atomize the oil into a fog, they burn it.

The first year, if they had paid an employee $10/hr. to pick up the oil, pump it and clean out the waste, they would have paid 34 cents a gallon for the oil and saved about $8,500 in heating costs; in 2007, they saved a little over $30,000 in heating their greenhouses. “If we didn’t have this project, we would not be growing vegetables in greenhouses in Freeport in the winter,” said Turner. They generate about $5 in vegetable sales for every gallon of oil they burn.

The oil burners have a UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label on them, and that’s important to local building code officials and to insurance companies. “If anything happens to your place, whether it has anything to do with your oil burning appliance or not, and if they come out and see what you’re doing, they can technically void your insurance policy.” One reason Turner is on ASTM is to develop the fuel standard so that UL will label these devices for these products.

Maine produces about 1.5 million gallons of used cooking oil (“restaurant grease – the good stuff”) annually; perhaps 4.5 million gallons if brown grease – “the bad stuff” – is included. Some 3 to 6 million gallons could be trucked in from near Boston for $2/gallon. The Turners’ cost is still about 35 cents/gallon.

Laughing Stock Farm’s biggest expense is labor; second is heating the greenhouses. “With the amount of used cooking oil in Maine, if 100 others built greenhouses spread up and down the coast of Maine, we could heat about 40 acres of greenhouses and contribute about $6 million in gross farm revenue to the economy. We could save the restaurants about $2.25 [per gallon] in used cooking oil disposal costs.” The Turners will use about 10,000 gallons this year, which comes from about half the restaurants in Freeport.

Turner recently was the engineer for building a large commercial biodiesel facility in Pennsylvania – the largest multi-feedstock plant in the United States; he knows biodiesel chemistry “inside and out”; and he said that he would not make biodiesel at home, because he would not want to ruin the biodiesel engine in his John Deere tractor. “If you have a 1983 VW Rabbit that’s worth nothing and you want to do this, you want to blow up your diesel engine, my answer is, all power to you. But if you’re going to do this stuff and encourage other people to do it and sell this stuff, my answer is, there’s an element of social responsibility to this. We believe in [organic] certification. ASTM is the exact same thing for fuel. It’s a quality standard that exists to protect the consumer.”

Community Wind

Sue Jones owns Community Energy Partners, a clean energy consultancy in Freeport that advises on project development and specializes in local owner business models. She is particularly interested in developing locally-owned, community energy projects.

Jones said that nationally, wind development is seen as an economic development model for states and that strong support exists, especially for community- and farmer-owned wind projects. “We’re gaining recognition at the state level because the economic benefits are so great,” she added; they are “vastly superior in most cases over absentee or out-of-state owners.”

Most wind development in Maine is now solely being done on lease payments: Farmers are asked to give a 20-, 30-, 50- or 60-year lease to part of their land. In return, they get payments and the town gets tax revenue. Sometimes farmers get additional revenue through easements for wires, access, etc. “That’s the model so far in Maine and in other states, but that’s not the model in many other places,” said Jones.

The idea of community wind started in Denmark about 10 years ago, she explained. Now hundreds of thousands of Germans and Danes own part of wind projects. “They may own 10% to 100% of one turbine; they may own 10% of a 100 megawatt (MW) project.” In Germany, 88% of the projects (5400 MW in 2002) are community-owned; in Denmark, 84% (1900 MW in 2002). In comparison, Maine has 42 MW from its only project (Mars Hill).

Jones showed one city/resident-owned offshore wind energy project in Denmark. “It can be onshore or offshore. The impacts are always local – and there are real impacts. The neat thing about community energy, though, is you get the revenues too.”

Hull, Mass., has a municipal coop-owned, 900 KW turbine on a very windy channel. “They made so much money on the turbine that they installed a second, 1.8 MW project, which is huge, and they paid for it with cash.” Hull’s residents selected their landfill as the location for the second project.

A community wind project can be owned by a municipal utility, which can pass rates and benefits on to municipal ratepayers. They can be cooperatives, as in Moorehead, Minnesota; Waverly, Iowa; or Hull, Mass. Most of these are single turbines, where the coop is trying to reduce costs for ratepayers.

The scale of community wind projects is growing. Ten years ago, they were single- or double-turbine projects; now, with the concept of joint ownership, they are growing. The largest in the world is 200 turbines, 300 MW, owned primarily by some 70 farmers in three Minnesota counties. “You can do joint ownership at the 10 KW scale, with your neighbor; or you can do 300 MW with a large group,” Jones explained. School districts and tribal communities also have community wind projects.

Community-owned wind projects tend to support more local businesses, such as engineers and contractors, than those owned by absentee owners. They also create more local jobs. In Minnesota and Iowa, benefits to local communities through tax revenues are substantial.

“Minnesota and Iowa are the two states I really watch as far as wind development,” said Jones. She pointed out that farmers may spend $150,000 on a combine that they use for only two to four weeks each year. While a large turbine can cost $2 to $3 million now, it runs 365 days per year. “Some farmers can do it on their own; others do it jointly.”

The market now is for 1.5 to 2.5 MW turbines, with a cost of about $1 million per MW. Various tax and financing models are available. “Not many farmers in Maine can self-finance,” Jones acknowledged. “Your partners could be a co-op, a school. The most important thing is getting a large piece of land (such as land next to a school).”

One Colorado municipality owns one turbine, piggybacked on a 162 MW Shell and GE project. As the town worked through the permitting process for the companies’ 161 MW project, it asked: “What if we came up with $1 or $2 million and bought one turbine that we could use? You do the operation and maintenance, add it into your project, but give up 1/162 of the revenue.” And they did.

Jones’s favorite project, Minn Wind (Minnesota Wind I and II), has spurred some 30 other projects and is the model she uses in Maine. The farmer-based project formed as a corporation for tax and other purposes but works like a cooperative: Two farmers pooled their finances, created two LLCs and sold membership stock to 66 individuals. They made their own declarations and principles, requiring that 85% of shares be owned by farmers and that no individual may own more than 15% of the whole. “I’ve seen other cases where the group said 100% of the owners, 50% of the owners, whatever the number is, have to live within 50 miles of a project,” said Jones. Using investment money and some grants, Minn Wind put up two 1.8 MW turbines in 2002. The goals were: local ownership; maximum return on investment; local economic development; and creating a model that could be replicated. Since then seven more Minn Wind projects have been done. Each got some $200,000 from USDA’s renewable energy/energy efficiency improvement program and used the funds to buy equipment and to fund some of the association and transmission costs. They signed power purchase contracts with a utility a couple of years ago, and now have 14 MW of local wind power.

Community Energy Partners is now working on seven projects, predominantly farmer-owned and in the very early stages of development. “In the early stages, it takes a couple of years to get funds together and test the wind,” said Jones.

Small Systems for Homes

Vernon LeCount, MOFGA’s facilities director, talked about MOFGA’s 10 KW Bergey windmill, which ties into the grid and so avoids using batteries and inverters. Its control system is very sensitive, he said. “If the voltage or frequency varies too much on CMP’s end, it shuts right down. They don’t want backfeed. It gives us about a third of what we need for energy.” (MOFGA uses a lot of energy during the Common Ground Country Fair.) The organization is trying to get Wind Spiral, a Canadian firm, to put a prototype, vertical access windmill on its grounds. “Some people think they’re better in turbulent areas.” LeCount said that tilt-ups are better for small farmers and homeowners, because a crane isn’t needed to get the windmill up.

Other breakout sessions covered carbon sequestration, with Sue Gammon of Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District and Ellen Hawes of Environment Northeast; and solar power, with Pat Coon of ReVision Energy, Dick Fortier of Maine PUC Solar Program and Ken Segal of Brickyard Cove Tax.

What’s Happening in Augusta

Rep. Stacey Fitts, who serves on Maine’s Utilities and Energy Committee, said that a 90 KW turbine would power any Maine farm. One New York site has 195 turbines, 1.65 MW each, totaling 320 MW of capacity. “Most of those turbines are on farmland and generate income revenue for the farmers. People whose land they sit on are pretty happy. In Maine now, if you generate more power than you use, it goes into the system and you get credits. After 12 months those credits expire”—a system called Net Energy Billing. “Or you can get a check for the excess if you set it up with the PUC that way.”

The big providers get money as a contract, and different kinds of contracts pay different amounts. While the state’s efforts so far have been primarily to spur big industrial projects, some work does support community- and farm-based wind. Fitts is pushing the concept of group ownership. Another project creates a loan program through the Maine State Housing Authority to help overcome the cost of putting geothermal heating systems in homes. And a tax credit would help people who want to put in a small wind turbine (10 KW or under), like the one at MOFGA.

Rep. John Piotti said that some Legislative activity has saved many dairy farms – and kept that land from development – over the past few years, thus saving energy by supporting local food production and minimizing sprawl. “Anything the legislature can do to keep farming viable in the state directly supports our energy goals,” he said.

Also, a tax credit for historic renovation of downtown buildings helps keep people living, working and playing in a centralized place that’s already constructed. “Tax credits are a powerful tool to change behavior, but they are, in essence, not receiving income [for the state]. We have a million tax credits out there – some may not be so good. We need a new baseline and a system for evaluating” those credits.

Piotti added, “We already produce an incredible amount of fuel in the state: It’s called food. To utilize that more efficiently and keep more of it here is paramount.”

John Kerry is working to establish an energy services company, using existing state employees, for state government to address energy issues. Analyzing energy use in residential, commercial and industrial facilities could save hundreds of millions of dollars per year in energy costs, said Kerry. He would also like to hire a person to work with farmers and the biofuels industry in Maine, especially the forest products industry.

Russ Libby noted that in the session on solar energy, Pat Coons said that the lowest hanging fruit on alternative energy is solar batch heaters displacing oil during the summer. Some 300,000 homes in Maine run their oil-fueled boilers all summer to heat water, at a cost of about $1.4 billion over 10 years. “If we could come up with a batch heater for something under $4,000 per household, the state and every individual is ahead if we could just put one on all 300,000 houses and displace all that money that’s going out of state right now. The state’s ahead if we actually go buy them for people and put them out there, pay them back over a 10-year period.”

– J E

Resources

Blais, John, Kennebec County Soil and Water Conservation District, 622-7847, www.kcswcd.org; info@kcswcd.org

Clark, Timothy, Efficiency Maine. www.efficiencymaine.com, 866-376-2463, clark@gdsassociates.com

Hayes, Mary Ann, Maine Rural Partners, 581-4521, www.mainerural.org (especially the “helpful links” page); info@mainerural.org

Jones, Sue, Community Energy Partners, 221-5631; www.communityenergypartners.com; renewable@suscon-maine.net

Kerry, John, Governor’s Office of Energy Independence and Security, 287-6250, www.maineenergyinfo.com

Piotti, John, Maine Farmland Trust, 338-6575, www.mainefarmlandtrust.org, info@mainefarmlandtrust.org

Titus, Lauchlin, AgMatters, 873-2108; ltitusl@verizon.net

Turner, Ralph and Lisa, Laughing Stock Farm, Freeport, Maine; 865-3743; www.laughingstockfarm.com; ralph@rturner.com


Feds Study Climage Change, Agriculture

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) report, "Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3 (SAP 4.3): The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States," integrates federal research from 13 agencies on climate and global change. The report says that climate change is already affecting U.S. water and land resources, agriculture and biodiversity, and will continue to do so. Specifically:

• Grain and oilseed crops will mature more rapidly, but increasing temperatures will increase the risk of crop failures, particularly if precipitation decreases or becomes more variable.

• Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality, but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.

• Forests in the interior West, the Southwest and Alaska are already being affected by climate change with increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality. These changes are expected to continue.

• Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and stream flow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.

• Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.

• There is a trend toward reduced mountain snow pack and earlier spring snowmelt runoff in the Western United States.

• Horticultural crops (such as tomato, onion and fruit) are more sensitive to climate change than grains and oilseed crops.

• Young forests on fertile soils will achieve higher productivity from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures will increase productivity in other types of forests where water is available.

• Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increased fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.

• A continuation of the trend toward increased water use efficiency could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on water resources.

• The growing season has increased by 10 to 14 days over the last 19 years across the temperate latitudes. Species' distributions have also shifted.

• The rapid rates of warming in the Arctic observed in recent decades, and projected for at least the next century, are dramatically reducing the snow and ice covers that provide denning and foraging habitat for polar bears.

USDA agencies’ responses include incorporating climate change risks into National Forest Management Plans and providing guidance to forest managers on responding and adapting to climate change; encouraging reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration through conservation programs; and assessing the risks of climate change on the crop insurance program.

(“U.S. Climate Change Science Program Releases Report on the Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, land and Water Resources and Biodiversity,” USDA news release, May 27, 2008. See also www.usda.gov/oce/global_change/
and www.climatescience.gov/Library/sap/sap4-3/default.php)


Glomalin Locks Up Soil Carbon

A soil constituent known as glomalin provides a secure vault for the world's soil carbon according to microbiologist Kristine Nichols at the Agricultural Research Service Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, N.D.

Glomalin is a sticky substance secreted by threadlike fungal structures called hyphae that funnel nutrients and water to plant roots. Glomalin acts like little globs of chewing gum on strings or strands of plant roots and the fungal hyphae. Into this sticky “string bag” fall the sand, silt and clay particles that make up soil, along with plant debris and other carbon-containing organic matter. The sand, silt and clay stick to the glomalin, starting aggregate formation, a major step in soil creation.

On the surface of soil aggregates, glomalin forms a lattice-like waxy coating to keep water from flowing rapidly into the aggregate and washing away everything, including the carbon. As the builder of the formation “bag” for soil, glomalin is vital globally to soil building, productivity and sustainability, as well as to carbon storage.

Nichols uses glomalin measurements to gauge which farming or rangeland practices work best for storing carbon. Since glomalin levels can reflect how much carbon each practice is storing, they could be used in conjunction with carbon credit trading programs.

In studies on cropland, Nichols has found that both tilling and leaving land idle – as is common in arid regions – lower glomalin levels by destroying living hyphal fungal networks. The networks need live roots and do better in undisturbed soil.

When glomalin binds with iron or other heavy metals, it can keep carbon from decomposing for up to 100 years. Even without heavy metals, glomalin stores carbon in the inner recesses of soil particles where only slow-acting microbes live. This carbon in organic matter is also saved, like a slow-release fertilizer, for later use by plants and hyphae.

(Agricultural Research Service News Service, USDA, Don Comis, (301) 504-1625, donald.comis@ars.usda.gov; June 17, 2008; www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr)

    

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