Since petrol became available in mass, affordable quantities farms have obviously benefited from more efficient planting and harvesting equipment as well as farm house and milking parlor electrification, In the Midwest you can drive down township roads and in some places see vestiges of early innovations such as dormant steam powered threshers or windmills that charged 36 volt electrical systems. Yet aside from being considerable users of energy farms also have increasingly been generators of energy (or feedstock for heat/electrical production).
Some of the production comes from farm based biodiesel (which has been created and used at the UAF experimental farm in Palmer) as well as biomass fuel crops- when you consider that wood is considered by federal agencies an ag crop. One of the more popular type of agricultural produced feedstocks in the past couple decades (which helped to generate the onging ‘food for fuel’ debate) was corn grown toward producing ethanol. In Interior Alaska it has been the primary grain crop barley that has been utilized- but not as a liquid fuel but rather solid substitute sold for pellet stoves creating space heat.
There are several grants out that encourage looking at farm-based energy generation. Encouragement of research coupled with outreach education are needed. Some efforts, such as the Western States Agricultural Research Education E3A program look at how simple non-petrol energy production could help a farm to operate better, no matter what the crop output is or may be used for. The ground source heat pump section of this program was written by a collaboration of UAF Extension with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and Alaska Center for Energy and Power. Farm use of solar to power irrigation pumps and create domestic hot water, wind generation, and efficiency measures for farm buildings are some of the topics covered.
It is important for universities to not only do the research, but also to reduce the gaps of knowledge in the science and how to create the energy production with an understanding of farm type operations. One of the areas that the School of Natural Resources and Engineering school at UAF have taken up in pursuance of grants is agricultural land management toward producing (possibly) usable heat and and a soil amendment or filter product from biochar. There will be more on this in the next couple months that I’ll explain!