Drying grain without propane: the Small Farm Energy Project

“6/16/79 At the Fish farm, Earl showed visitors the greenhouse and the solar dryer. He said, ‘You’ll have a hard time convincing Earl Fish that you can’t dry grain without propane.’” This comes from records of the Small Farm Energy Project, a research and demonstration project of the Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA) to show the impact of energy conservation innovations on small farmers.

Notes from farm interviews with Earl Fish. MS 413, Box 104, folder 36.

Notes from farm interviews with Earl Fish. MS 413, Box 104, folder 36.

ISU Special Collections and University Archives holds the records of the Center for Rural Affairs, a Nebraska-based non-profit organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to improving the lives and opportunities of small farmers and rural communities. Among their many projects to improve the welfare of rural Americans, the CFRA has developed projects related to global warming and agriculture, in addition to this and other work in clean energy, which is why I’m highlighting them in honor of Earth Day, which was April 22.

Small Farm Energy Project Sign. From MS 413, box 106, folder 20.

Small Farm Energy Project Sign. From MS 413, box 106, folder 20.

For the Small Farm Energy Project, CFRA targeted low-income farmers with net incomes within 125 percent of the poverty level. Farmers applied to be part of the study. Of fifty total participants, 25 formed a control group that made no changes, but kept detailed records of their energy usage. The other 25 were the innovators, who were exposed to a variety of alternative energy technologies through a series of workshops. Individual farmers chose which technologies to implement based on their individual situations.

Earl Fish was one of the farm innovators, and his success using a solar grain dryer attracted the interest of other farmers in the area. The Small Farm Energy Project Newsletter for December 1977 reads, “Fish, cooperating farmer of the Small Farm Energy Project, used solar energy to dry grain in his 6000 bu. bin equipped with stirrator. Propane had been used in previous years for drying, but not in 1977. …Fish was particularly impressed with the quality of the dried grain using the low temperature process of solar drying compared to higher temperature drying. Another advantage of the system cited by Fish is the fan housing which lowers fan noise levels considerably.”

The Preliminary Report for the project estimates that a “solar grain dryer has the potential to save a farmer $260 a year over a 10-year period when used as a substitute for more energy-intensive batch drying. More than half the farms that could install a solar grain dryer did so” (p. 30, box 106, folder 21).

Portable solar collector has been attached to a grain bin for grain drying, circa 1979.

Portable solar collector has been attached to a grain bin for grain drying, circa 1979.

Check out the Center for Rural Affairs Records (MS 413) to learn more about the Small Farm Energy Project, including construction guidelines  to build your own solar grain dryer (see box 106, folder 18)!

Happy Earth Day!

 

Sources

Farm Interview: Earl Fish. Box 104, Folder 36.

“Innovations Continue as Project Extended.” Small Farm Energy Project Newsletter. Issue 9. December, 1977. Box 104, Folder 22.

Small Farm Energy Project, Center for Rural Affairs. “Preliminary Report January, 1977, through December, 1978 for the Impact of Various Energy Innovations on Energy Consumption and Net Income for 48 Small Farms.” July 1979. Box 106, Folder 21.

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