Q&A With USDA’s Randy Monhemius

Randy Monhemius, business program specialist for the USDA Rural Development program, discusses grower interest in alternative energy grants and loans and shares his vision on where alternative energy is going.

Can you gauge the level of interest growers are expressing in alternative energy grants and loans today compared to their level of interest one year ago? Two years ago? Five years ago?

There is certainly a growing interest in the use of renewable energy to meet the heating needs of the greenhouses. Rural Development has available the Rural Energy for America Program that could be used to provide a grant and/or loan guarantee to help these growers offset the costs of installing these renewable energy systems.

However, energy efficiency within the greenhouse could also be eligible through this program. An energy audit would be required to document the potential energy savings, which would be generated by installing thermal curtains, replacing gas heaters with high efficiency furnaces or installing bench warmers, for example. All of these improvements could be eligible for our program assistance.

Do you anticipate more or less interest from greenhouse growers in alternative energy grants, loans and systems in the coming year?

I am expecting that the demand for these grants will continue to increase. As the word spreads regarding the availability of these grants, I would anticipate that demand from growers would continue to increase.

Energy usage has been and will continue to be an area of concern for the growers. I believe growers are looking to save money or at least manage costs better through the installation of energy-efficient improvements or renewable energy.

Will USDA have to adapt its program to accommodate more growers if more interest is shown and alternative energy systems–featuring fuels like wood, wood chips, corn–continue to prove their reliability? Is there too much demand from growers for grants and loans right now?

Since this program is available to agricultural producers and rural small businesses, greenhouse growers will compete for funding with a wide variety of other businesses and producers. As demand for this program continues to grow, we are hopeful Congress realizes the benefits and will continue to increase funding for this program as they have done in previous years.

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