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New grants for dairy farmers designed to grow businesses

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MADRID - Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed increased funding for grants to help dairy farmers expand operations and install alternative energy systems.

The initiative would see a doubling of the incentive money for renewable bio-energy projects from $1 million to $2 million per installation.

It would also introduce $450,000 in Dairy Acceleration Program grants to help dairy farmers grow their businesses.

“It’s encouraging when the governor wants to support financial analysis and strategic planning,” David Fisher, a dairy farmer in Madrid, said.

John Wagner, area field advisor for the St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau, said the $450,000 Dairy Acceleration Program grant money is essentially the state asking, “How can we help you be more profitable?”

“New York has always had a strong pro-dairy program,” Mr. Fisher said.

He said he expects north country farmers will apply for the grants.

The Dairy Acceleration Program will enable farmers to access dairy industry efficency experts, enabling growth and reducing costs.

“There is a growing demand for milk,” Mr. Fisher said. “We have a great land base in the north country, so we can grow good forages, and that’s key for dairy cows.”

The governor’s increased incentives for bio-energy could also help north country farmers.

Doug Shelmidine, Ellisburg, is the only farmer in St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties who has an operational anaerobic digester, according to Mr. Wagner.

Mr. Shelmidine said roughly 65 percent of the funding for his digester came through state and federal grants, without which he doubts it would have been cost effective.

The digester produces electricity with the methane gas released as bacteria break down manure.

“We take the manure, blend it and put it into a large tank that’s insulated, and we warm it to about 100 degrees,” Mr. Shelmidine said.

At 100 degrees the bacteria in the manure produces methane which is used to turn generators and produce electricity.

It helps farmers “deal with manure… reduce the odors,” Mr. Shelmidine said. “We are able to take the fibers out of the manure and use it for bedding material. We can reduce our expenses.”

Mr. Shelmidine said he thinks the added grant money “could make it quite a lot more interesting for farmers to look at.”

Because of the insulation needed to make digesters work in the north country’s cold winters, Mr. Shelmidine said, anaerobic digesters have been difficult to set up in the region. The new grant money will help farmers cover the startup costs so they can see a faster return on investment, he said.

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