CLEMSON — Clemson University’s Sustainable Agriculture Program has been awarded a two-year grant to train Cooperative Extension agents, farmers and agricultural stakeholders in renewable energy systems that have been developed and tested at Clemson’s Student Organic Farm.

Student Organic Farm Shawn Jadrnicek demonstrates Clemson's black soldier fly digester.

Student Organic Farm manager Shawn Jadrnicek demonstrates Clemson’s black soldier fly digester.
Image Credit: Clemson

The $78,000 grant from South Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education will enable Clemson to design classes to help farmers in South Carolina and neighboring states increase their energy self-reliance and reduce energy costs.

The classes will be held at the Student Organic Farm and on local farms to demonstrate ways farms can design structures to better utilize solar and water resources and create value-added products and reduce energy costs by converting plant and animal waste.

Some of the systems include passive solar techniques using 55-gallon drums, rainwater collection systems, raised-bed vegetable production, black soldier fly-composting, oil seed crop and biodiesel production, and systems for using water and compost to transfer and generate heat inside greenhouses.

“We have data showing that these systems are both cost-effective and practical because we’ve tested them here at Clemson,” said Geoff Zehnder, Clemson professor and Sustainable Agriculture Program director. “The next step is to impart what we’ve learned to farmers, Extension agents and agricultural stakeholders so they can benefit.”

USDA statistics show that over the past five years agricultural fertilizer costs have increased 44 percent, fuel costs have increased 32 percent and pesticide costs have increased 14 percent. Further studies show that the increase in food-production energy use is six times the rate of increase in total domestic energy use.

If farmers can offset the cost of petroleum-based fuels and fertilizers, they can increase profitability and decrease farm waste.

Farmer cooperators are integral to the training project.

“Holding classes on farms where alternative energy systems are being used will give training participants an opportunity to interact with cooperating farmers and determine whether the systems are practical for their individual farming operations,” Zehnder said.

Clemson’s Sustainable Agriculture Program will collaborate with Clemson University’s biosystems engineering department, Clemson Recycling Services, South Carolina State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program, Elon University and Prota Culture in designing and implementing the training program.

The grant comes as Clemson marks the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, which formalized the Cooperative Extension Service, and celebrates its role as an early leader in the extension movement.