RSDP Happenings - Focus: Shedding light (and heat) on MN's turkey farmers
By Ronnie Schwenn
RREAL Founding Director Jason Edens briefs RSDP on the Toasty Turkeys project in July 2013 (L); turkey farmers discuss new LED lighting options at a CERTs event in Willmar in March (R).
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, turkey is on a lot of people's minds. Here in Minnesota, that includes organizations such as the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) that are helping cut energy costs for Minnesota's roughly 250 family turkey farmers. CERTs is educating farmers about the benefits of LED lighting with its Gobble Up Savings campaign, while Central RSDP is working with the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) to research solar transpired air technology for turkey farmers.
CERTs, a partnership between RSDP and four other organizations, introduced its Gobble Up Savings program as a way to reduce farmers' energy bills by tackling lighting in turkey barns. Currently, many barns use high pressure sodium or incandescent lighting, so switching to more efficient LED lighting presents an easy way to save money and help the farmer's bottom line.
As John Zimmerman, former president of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, says in a recent video, "We [turkey farmers] are price takers. We take whatever price the market gives us, so we always have to be watching our bottom line and anything we can do to increase our efficiency is obviously welcome." CERTs has been spreading the word to farmers about the benefits of LED lighting, incentives being offered by local utilities to reduce consumption of electricity, and federal funding available to make the transition to LEDs.
Concurrent with CERTs' work, Central RSDP has connected the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL), a non-profit organization dedicated to local clean energy projects that is based in Pine River, with researchers and educators from the University of Minnesota to explore solar transpired air technology in a project dubbed Toasty Turkeys. Transpired air is the process of pre-heating air in a perforated metal plating system that is installed on an exterior wall of the barn. Since turkey growers tend to be far from the natural gas grid, farmers often have to rely on expensive delivered fuels such as propane, which spiked in price during last year's harsh winter.
Adam Mehr, a solar heat outreach specialist at RREAL, notes that turkey growing operations are a good match for the solar transpiration technology because they require high amounts of air exchange to meet needs of growing birds. "In the winter, you're bringing air in at 0 degrees F, which is going to take a lot of fuel to heat. If we are able to preheat that air, it has the potential to save farmers fuel costs," says Mehr.
CERTs and Central RSDP have been key players in getting Toasty Turkeys off the ground. The concept for testing solar transpired air on an agricultural facility bloomed at the regional sessions of the 2013 CERTs conference in March 2013. CERTs awarded Toasty Turkeys a seed grant in January 2014. Then, Central RSDP provided additional research funding in spring 2014 to start a pilot research project at Velo Turkey Farms in central Minnesota. Central RSDP's colleagues at the University of Minnesota also provided poultry production expertise and helped RREAL select their partner farm for the project. RREAL will collect data on the transpired air system installed at Velo Farms for at least the next two years, and the data will inform both economic and environmental analyses of how the new technology affects energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
Both the Gobble Up Savings and the Toasty Turkey projects hold great promise for turkey farmers. As Joel Haskard, co-director of CERTs, pointed out, "A lot of farmers think of energy as a fixed cost, but it doesn't have to be. We at CERTs and the Partnerships want to help them reduce those costs. It's a smart idea for them, as it is for Minnesota's environment and the competitiveness of its economy." With over 46 million turkeys produced annually in Minnesota, the turkey industry represents a prime opportunity for energy and economic savings.
CERTs, RREAL, and the Central RSDP are partnering to host a free event educating farmers and community members about the Toasty Turkeys project and Gobble Up Savings campaign on December 3rd, 2014 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The event will be in Pelican Rapids, MN, and all are welcome to attend.