Farm Energy Working Group

Promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy practices to meet the needs of Iowa's small to mid-sized farm operations


Mini-Grant Program


   FEWG Demonstration Grant Reports

                                     2009       2010         2011         2012              2013

Started in 2009, the Iowa Farm Energy Working Group has made available small seed grants to small and mid-size farm operations who propose to further the goals of this Working Group through research, development and implementation of conservation, efficiency and renewable energy on farms. The grants are for farm-scale projects that other farmers could replicate. Below are the projects and either final reports, project manuals, and/or photos of each.

For three years, FEWG has provided small funding to several farmers to help start projects on their farms to increase energy efficiency/conservation and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. All projects are listed below with a short explanation and link to more detail.



LED Lighting - Tom and Janna Feldman

Doe’s and Diva’s Dairy, Inc. incorporated LED (light emitting diode) lighting into a dairy building as recessed down lights and task lights to reduce energy needs. LEDs emit little heat, thus reducing the cost of cooling the dairy. Since LEDs contain no glass, they are not vulnerable to vibration or breakage like conventional bulbs making them particularly suited to a dairy operation. Feldmans also installed a TED (The Energy Detective) monitoring device to collect, analyze and store electricity data. It will help the owners determine where the highest energy costs are being spent and help them make decisions to increase their energy efficiency.  Read the Case Study


Electric-powered Sickle for Mowing/Hay Cutting - Grant Schultz

Develop an electric-powered sickle mower to add increased utility to the electric tractor. Determine the ideal size and platform for adapting electric power to a sickle bar mower; determine if the existing tractor battery bank is sufficient for powering the sickle bar power; adapt a power take off (PTO) sickle bar mower to the existing tractor/electric sickle bar mower platform. Schultz added an E-PTO system to the back of the tractor to plug in auxiliary PTOs, like the sickle he built using the FEWG mini-grant.  Read the Case Study



Biogas Digester to Heat High Tunnel – Jim Fitkin


Fitkin, Waterloo, IA, plans to make a biogas digester to heat a 30 x 72' high tunnel to extend his growing season in the spring and fall. He sells his produce (popcorn for this project) at local markets and other outlets. For on-farm resources, he will use waste from crops and animals to make biogas; use the biogas to heat the high tunnel; and put the compost left from the biogas back onto the hoop house soil.  Read the final report>


Wood Waste Boiler System – Larry Reiling


Reiling, Fairfield Farm near Calmar, IA, will design an automated stoker feed wood waste boiler system to heat storage trailers, a shop, and a wash facility for vegetables, potatoes and onions. Reiling will construct a boiler building, wood storage facility, and install the boiler. The wood boiler heating system will use wood from the farm to reduce reliance on natural gas, propane, and other heating means. The project will generate a complete bill of materials of purchase parts and a system manual to allow other Iowa farmers to replicate the idea.


Evaluation of CoolBot System for Walk-In Cooler – Harn Soper


Harn Soper, Soper Farms, Emmetsburg, will provide design/performance values for a CoolBot System to cool a vegetable building walk-in cooler. The project will evaluate the technical and financial feasibility of using a CoolBot system, "ground truth" the company's claim of reduced electricity use as a cooling system; and provide a design example and recommendations for any farmer interested in implementing a CoolBot system for vegetable cooling. Read a final article on the project>





Renewable Energy Site Assessment for Genuine Faux Farm – Rob & Tammy Faux


            The owners of Genuine Faux Farm near Tripoli want to reduce their farm's reliance on fossil fuels by using renewable energy if possible. To find out if renewable energy is the best choice for their 14-acre diversified vegetable/chicken/turkey/duck farm, they will hire a solar site assessor to research their farms' current and projected future energy needs.


Micro Scale Biogas Generator – Harn Soper


            Harn Soper of Emmetsburg and a consultant will design, build, and monitor a second generation prototype 500-gallon biogas generator at Soper Farm to determine the feasibility of larger production levels. This 100% sustainable energy system will convert farm waste (primarily cattle manure) into usable compost for plant fertilizer. It will also recover biogas energy which will be used to heat water to warm the floor of a farm greenhouse. The goal is accomplish these two objectives in a cost effective manner that other farms could replicate.

Soper Farm is a 1,000 acre operation transitioning from conventional farming of corn and soybeans to an organic operation, according to Soper's proposal.

Read their mid-point progress report>




Wind & Solar Energy on the Farm – Jack Bensink


Bensink purchased a hybrid 10 kW wind turbine and 2 kW of solar PV system. He used the demonstration grant to install the hybrid wind/solar system and collect monthly data to hopefully show that the two renewable energy systems can produce enough energy to make his farm as energy independent as possible. Between the financial incentives and energy savings, he hoped the project would be cost effective for other farms of a similar size. He gave several presentations on the project to other farmers and organizations.


Evaluate Sustainable Biomass Crop Production Systems that Foster Healthy Ecosystems – Rob Lundquist


To provide innovative solutions that lead to the adoption of energy crops by producers on small to mid-sized Iowa farms, the Southern Iowa Renewable Energy Crop Coalition planted three on-farm energy crop demonstration plots. They compared the output of miscanthus, a tall perennial grass with a high yield biomass potential, to plantings of switchgrass, big bluestem, and Indian grass with cover crops of rye, oats, and crimson clover. They examined the best planting process to used and identified acceptable planting locations and cover crops for successful overwintering of Miscanthus. They also determined the biomass yield of each grass to provide renewable energy feedstocks in quantities that meet federal goals while sustaining soil resources and enhancing ecological services. Three Iowa farmers with diverse farms and conservation experience dedicated 2 acres each for the research/demonstration project.


Robotic Milking Machine – Mark & Sandra Ehrhardt


This project changed an outdated milking system for 65 cows to an energy efficient system to save energy, money and time. The Lely robotic milking system provides water savings of at least 75% and electrical savings of 15-20%. An energy audit was completed before starting the project. Ehrhardts, who farm near Monona, tracked their past electrical and water usage so they could compare it with the new system. They reused some of their current equipment and were the first dairy farmers in Iowa to use a robotic milking system.  Read two news articles about the Ehrhardt's robotic milking machine -

REC newsletter article>     Iowa Farmer Today article>

Farm Building Energy Analysis for Small Hog Farrowing Operation – James Frantzen


An energy analysis was done on a start-up hog farrowing operation for a 4-acre farm. None of the existing five buildings were climate controlled and James Frantzen wanted to determine the most energy efficient way to heat, ventilate, and/or cool the buildings before renovating them. Information was gathered on farm energy inputs and outputs to implement an on-farm energy strategy that matched the long-term farm goals to save money, save energy, save carbon or any combination of the three.  Read the evaluation and results final report >


Energy Flow Analysis for the Frantzen Family Farm – Tom & Irene Frantzen


The Frantzen Family Farm, a 385-acre diversified farm with certified organic animals, had a detailed energy analysis conducted. All energy inputs (fertilizer, feed, fossil fuel, electricity) and energy outputs (corn, oats, soybeans, cattle) were measured to determine cost, energy, and C02 emissions for the farm. The analysis confirmed energy savings from air-drying the corn crop when weather permits. Frantzens also had an energy audit of their home and implemented 80% of the recommendations. Phase 2 will be to develop a strategy to determine the most energy efficient way to supplement a geothermal heating system by burning corn cobs from the farm. Read the Frantzen Family Farm grant project report>


Houser Farms Renewable Energy Study – Melvyn Houser


This project provided information of use to many Iowa farmers interested in reducing their fossil fuel energy use and becoming more energy independent. Houser Farms staff calculated their current electrical usage/cost, had site assessments for wind and solar photovoltaic systems conducted, researched best systems for their site, costs, average yearly output, and payback timeframe. Houser planned to obtain other funding to purchase and install equipment.  Read the report>                                                                 





An Energy Independent Season-Extension Bunker – Jason Gomes


Owner of Rainbow Ridge Farm near Waverly, Gomes remodeled two existing underground bunkers for better on-farm energy efficiency. One bunker became a cold storage chamber for thousands of pounds of sweet potatoes and potatoes. The other bunker was retrofitted into a passive solar curing/drying chamber for onions and other crops from the farm. Gomes compiled a comprehensive instruction manual to encourage successful replication of the project among fruit and vegetable growers where cold storage and drying/curing capacity are common practices.

Read Jason's success story>


Biomass Hoop House Furnace/ Super insulated Hoop House – Greg & Denise Hoffman


Hoffmans grow fruits and vegetables on their 30-acre farm near Waterloo using sustainable farming methods as much as possible. They are reducing their energy use of liquid propane gas by 70-80% by installing a Seton boiler to heat one of six existing high-tunnel structures burning a free biomass resource (wood chips). They also increased the energy efficiency of one 20 x 48' hoop house (high tunnel) for vegetable growing by installing increased insulation on the north wall, polycarbonate (semi-rigid plastic) on the ends of the hoop house, and changing the plastic used on top of the hoop house to a selective insulating plastic that allows entry and containment of certain heat wave lengths. Read the Hoffman's success story with photos>