Farm Progress

Vilsack announces new renewable energy funding at Farm Progress Show

Rural Energy for America Program awards $266 million in loans and grants to projects in 47 states.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

August 30, 2023

2 Min Read
Vilsack speaking at Farm Progress Show
RURAL SUCCESS: Vilsack says new investments will lower farm energy costs, generate new income and strengthen resilience.Betty Haynes

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced USDA is awarding $266 million in loans and grants for agriculture producers and rural small businesses. He made the announcement during a Wednesday speech at the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Illinois. The new investments will support 1,334 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in 47 states, Guam and Puerto Rico. 

Those investments are being awarded through the Rural Energy for America Program, with additional funds coming from the Inflation Reduction Act. Vilsack says the investments will help producers and businesses lower their energy costs, generate new income, and strengthen the resilience of their operation.

“They help farmers lower their costs in terms of their own power needs, and also potentially create more revenue on the farm,” he says.

Creating new farm revenue is a theme the Secretary continues to tout. He believes it may be the biggest issue facing agriculture today.

American farms posted record revenue in 2021 and 2022. However, due to agriculture consolidation, 7.5% of the nation’s farms accounted for 89% of American farm revenue. That left nearly 2 million farmers earning only 11% of the nation’s total farm income.

He says that many farmers face the tough choice of either getting bigger or getting out of agriculture. Unfortunately, huge expansion is usually not an option for the nation’s small and mid-sized farmers. Instead, many people are forced to sell their farms and move to bigger cities for jobs. This slowly erodes rural communities, forcing business to close and schools to consolidate. Hospitals close, weakening medical care in small towns.

“Are we satisfied with that?” Vilsack rhetorically asked the crowd. “I don’t think we are, and I don’t think we should be.”

By promoting new revenue streams like climate smart agriculture, carbon sequestration, and sustainable aviation fuels, Vilsack believes farmers can tap into new markets and generate additional revenue. He says the Biden administration is committed to establishing programs that make it profitable for farmers to pursue these options. He noted that the Biden administration has now invested $9.7 billion to help rural electric cooperatives transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

“They’re going to need farmers to provide the renewable energy source,” Vilsack said.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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