press release - Maine Sustainable Year-Round Ag Initiative

Public Relations/Press Releases

 

Release date 07-30-14

 

Statewide coalition to test sustainable year-round crop production

 

POLAND, ME – Profitable year-round crop production in Maine may sound far-fetched given the state’s cold winters and high heating costs, but advances in greenhouse design and renewable energy technologies are changing that.

Now, as demand for locally-sourced food continues to grow, a coalition of Maine agriculture, energy, and composite industry representatives have partnered with academic institutions to demonstrate the potential for financially and environmentally sustainable year-round crop production in Maine.

Led by the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society (MESAS) and MaineAsia LLC, the group has won a $497,280 grant from the Maine Technology Institute (MTI) to bring knowledge, skills and essential resources from the agriculture, energy, technology, finance, government and education sectors together at four demonstration sites that will serve as platforms for applied research and development while providing hands-on experience with new technologies to active food producers in Maine.

The MTI grant will be matched by an additional $1,090,397 in capital expenditures and $222,285 of in-kind money for a total project budget of $1,809,962.

The project is called the Maine Sustainable Year-Round Agriculture Initiative, and its primary partners in addition to MESAS and MaineAsia include Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC) in Fairfield and Hinckley, the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension and Climate Change Institutes, Little River Flower Farm in Buxton, and Olivia’s Garden in New Gloucester.

Year-round agriculture in Maine is critical to improving the state’s capacity to add greater value to its natural agricultural resources and succeed in highly competitive agricultural markets.

The Initiative will test the effectiveness of various renewable energy technologies and greenhouse concepts to develop models that will allow local farmers to profitably grow crops year-round, including in the dead of winter when heating costs traditionally spike beyond the point where this is possible.

By demonstrating technologies that have been successful in other regions, the effort will generate data to show the effectiveness of these integrated applications and provide hands-on experience to growers. This will in turn help producers become more comfortable in adopting these solutions and encourage investors and lending organizations to support this type of approach.

“The mission of MESAS is to help farmers capture more of the consumer food dollar by finding sustainable ways to reduce the cost of inputs while increasing the value of the products they sell,” said Mark Hews, executive director of the Maine Sustainable Agriculture Society. “This project will go a long way to achieve that mission and help farmers in Maine have access to cutting-edge technologies, helping them become more competitive and profitable at a scale of their choice.”

MaineAsia is commercializing turnkey photovoltaic greenhouses that integrate photovoltaic technology into the glazing system of the greenhouses.

MaineAsia worked with MESAS during the feasibility phase of the project to identify opportunities with the best potential for using energy efficient technologies and other production technologies to increase production yields and lower or fix the energy input costs.

“One of the biggest challenges for year-round growers is controlling their energy costs,” said MaineAsia’s managing partner, Tony Kieffer. “This initiative will demonstrate how energy efficiency, production efficiency measures, and renewable energy can be brought together to help lower energy costs, improve productivity and accelerate the shift to renewable energy sources”.

The efficiency of renewable energy technologies continues to improve while the costs are declining rapidly, creating favorable economic conditions for the project.

As part of the effort, the Initiative seeks to create a network of experts, farmers, educators, and entrepreneurs applying new technologies for sustainable and energy-efficient year-round food production. Such a network will help connect clean energy companies with growers in Maine, bridging the funding and knowledge gaps that are holding back even greater development of the state’s agricultural sector.

“This initiative will further serve to train Maine’s agricultural workforce in skills that will improve and sustain our ability to feed the region year-round,” said Dr. Richard Hopper, President of Kennebec Valley Community College, where a key part of the project will come together with a solar-powered greenhouse.

KVCC will host one of the four demonstration sites being established under the Initiative to showcase and test promising advances in greenhouses, storage structures and aquaponic systems in the areas of heating, insulation and thermal storage, lighting, and intensive production.

The demonstration sites will also connect leaders and industry experts with exemplary growers and education partners who are interested in collaborating and disseminating information as early adopters of different technologies - providing a strong mix of community outreach, strategic planning, marketing and financial expertise, technical competence, agricultural expertise, and other critical skills.

Demonstration sites approved as part of the project include:

▪ Heat-efficient Photovoltaic Greenhouse Demonstration Center/Classroom at the Harold Alfond Campus of Kennebec Valley Community College (KVCC).

▪ Hydroponic /Aquaponic Greenhouse with integrated photovoltaics at Olivia's Garden - Pineland Farm.

▪ Integrated insulated Photovoltaic Production Greenhouse to study in-ground cut flowers/other vegetables production at Little River Flower Farm.

▪ Carbon-Negative Composite Arch Solar Multi-use Storage Structure with Efficient Climate Control (aka: The Extreme Environment Education and Research Building (E3RB))/University of Maine Climate Change Institute (E3RB)).

The environmental benefits of success will be significant. The project will combine sustainable farming practices that will produce healthy, safe food while reducing the carbon footprint of the agriculture operation and conserving water. Energy savings will be achieved through energy conservation practices and solar technologies to produce electricity.

The ultimate goal of the Initiative is to accelerate the growth of year-round agriculture in Maine, and, by doing so, grow farm production and incomes, and jobs and companies in related industries.

MESAS is a farmer-led nonprofit that focuses on helping farms in Maine achieve a triple bottom line regardless of the scale they operate at or the production methods they chose to use. That triple bottom line includes profitable farms, healthy ecosystems, and strong communities. The Initiative will help achieve that goal by combining advances in compost materials with solar, lighting, and other energy saving devices into greenhouse structures that are net energy producers.

MaineAsia provides strategic advice to businesses in the United States and Asia through consulting, trading, and ventures.

KVCC is one of seven community colleges in Maine that operate under the authority of the Maine Community College System Board of Trustees. The College offers more than 35 programs of study ranging from two-year associate degrees to certificates, as well as a comprehensive schedule of continuing education courses and business and industry outreach programs. KVCC operates a 120-acre farm tied to a growing series of programs in sustainable agriculture and culinary arts at its new 600-acre Harold Alfond Campus in Hinckley.

Learn more about the Initiative at: http://mesas.org/year-round-agriculture/.

For additional information from MaineAsia contact Tony Kieffer, Managing Partner, MaineAsia, at (207) 358-7236 or tkieffer@maineasia.com.

For additional information from KVCC contact Dr. Richard Hopper, President, KVCC, at president@kvcc.me.edu.

 

 

 

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