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New grants for dairy farmers designed to grow businesses

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed increased funding for grants available to dairy farmers across the state.

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

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

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

John Wager, field adviser 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, adding that he expects north country farmers will take advantage of the opportunity to apply for grant money.

The Dairy Acceleration Program will enable farmers to hire experts in the dairy industry who will help make farms more efficient, 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 bioenergy also could help north country farmers.

Douglas W. Shelmidine, Ellisburg, is the only farmer in St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties who has an operational anaerobic digester.

Mr. Shelmidine said about 65 percent of the funding for his digester came through state and federal grants, without which it’s questionable whether the digester would have been cost effective.

The digester uses manure to produce electricity with the methane gas it releases.

“We take the manure and 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 produce methane that 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.”

Especially because of the insulation needed to make digesters work in the north country’s cold winters, Mr. Shelmidine said, the 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 payback faster, he said.

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