Survey Says …

USDA’s first national on-farm renewable energy survey finds 121 farms with 140 on-site digesters.
By Anna Austin | April 29, 2011

The USDA has released its 2009 On-Farm Renewable Energy Survey results, a follow-up to the 2007 Census of Agriculture survey. This is the first on-farm renewable energy production survey conducted on a national level by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, and besides methane digesters includes information on energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels that were in operation on farms in 2009.

All farms that reported using methane digesters on the 2007 Census of Agriculture, plus all farms on the U.S. EPA’s AgSTAR list were included in the survey to ensure better coverage. Data for the report was acquired through confidential surveys and only takes into account those who reported information. The survey also included installation cost, percent of cost from outside funding, year installed and total amount of utility savings from the use of on-farm renewable energy production.

Though the use of digesters is small compared to wind and solar, the USDA points out that it is growing. Seventy-two percent of the digesters in use today were installed from 2005 to 2009. Results of the survey showed that there are 121 farms with 140 on-site digesters (some farms have more than one digester) owned and operated by the farm operation. Wisconsin has the most, with 25 digesters on 21 farms.

On average, the farms that reported digesters produce about 30.5 million Btu per cubic feet of methane, and the average cost of installation was about $1.7 million.

The industry growth could be a result of more state offices providing significant funding for the installation of anaerobic digesters. For example, funding has come from the California Energy Commission, the Iowa Office of Energy Independence and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.