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State Energy Panel Gets Recommendations : Suggestions to Aid Family Farms Listed

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Associated Press

The California Energy Commission should not directly help small family farms with energy conservation but could provide assistance in several indirect ways, consultants say.

Thirty farmers were interviewed about ways the state commission might structure a program to assist small farms.

Farmers made just three suggestions directly involved with energy: photovoltaic-powered pumping systems, replacing electricity with diesel to run pumps and night harvesting.

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However, the consultants found that those ideas are not cost-competitive or are likely to benefit large farms as well as small farms. Also, some assistance programs are being developed by other agencies.

The farmers did raise several ideas for assistance in areas with “strong energy implications,” the consultants added in a 148-page report.

“Most pertain to reducing operating costs, improving farm production efficiency or improving product quality at small farms,” said the report, prepared by Jack Chandler & Associates.

The report recommends that the Energy Commission consider these options to assist small family farms:

- Pest management. Improve the efficiency of pesticide applications by developing precision application methods or high-efficiency sprayers; improve use of biological controls or organic methods of pest control; increase the number of crops that have integrated pest management programs, and improve weed control by such methods as cultivation and water management.

- Soil fertility. Develop cover crop systems suitable for various crops and sections of the state; improve and develop methods to use agricultural residues and possibly urban wastes, both composted and uncomposted, and identify and test unconventional fertilizers or soil amendments that could offer low-cost alternatives.

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- Post-harvest handling. Develop an affordable and commercially available refrigeration system for on-farm use; expand knowledge of optimum storage parameters to specific crops grown by small farmers, and encourage development of low-cost and reuseable containers, packaging and storage systems.

- Farm equipment. Improve training in equipment operation and maintenance and develop specialty equipment and affordable multiuse equipment.

- Tillage systems. Develop tillage management programs similar in scope and approach to integrated pest management and improve tillage practices aimed at putting field residues or cover crops in the soil.

- On-farm computers. Water and fertilizer management; record-keeping, including operation and maintenance records, and remote sensing and control to improve irrigation efficiency, frost control and environmental control. “Computers have strong potential of offering small farmers several advantages if the prevailing hesitancy of farmers to use them can be overcome,” the report said.

- Animal confinement. “Low-cost confinement systems need to be developed for some animal groups such as hogs and poultry. Some (current) confinement systems, especially those used for hogs, are very energy intensive and have relatively high operating costs. Lower density, open-air systems should be given consideration.”

- Expert services. Investigate how to make energy expertise available to small farms.

- Financing. The California Energy Commission work with existing state programs for long-range financing of any innovations developed through the commission’s work.

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The commission also should consider providing funds in cooperation with other public and private farm groups “to either develop or deliver some of the assistance options it chooses.”

“The (Energy) Commission is not widely known among most small farmers in the state. Working through some established organizations may improve the outreach of (commission)-funded programs.”

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