Thursday, April 18, 2024

USDA announces renewable energy grant for rural parishes

by BIZ Magazine

BATON ROUGE, La. — Members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited LSU AgCenter facilities March 26 to announce a $166,668 technical assistance grant for rural Louisiana communities through its Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP.

The investment is meant to provide support to farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners seeking federal funds for renewable energy systems such as solar and other energy-efficient measures. The funds are meant to not only help producers and small businesses lower energy costs but also access new markets and strengthen operations.

Deidre Deculus Robert, USDA rural development director for Louisiana, said the grant will provide valuable resources and technical assistance to help businesses thrive in the rural economy.

“REAP represents a commitment to climate-smart initiatives to ensure small businesses are sustainable and that ag producers have every opportunity to decrease their overhead and increase their bottom line,” she said.

Robert went on to say that many small business owners and producers in rural communities don’t have the capacity or time to navigate the grant application process. Having the LSU AgCenter as a partner to help them do so is key to the program’s success.

“Now we can impact more people, get more applications in the door and spend some of this money that’s been allocated to help our community, especially in Louisiana, which is 66% rural,” she said. “It’s really important that we afford these opportunities to everyone across the state.”

The principal investigator for the program, LSU AgCenter water quality expert M.P. Hayes, believes the funding represents a step forward for rural communities as they face economic changes in the face of future climate uncertainties.

“When we go into these communities, there is a desire to be more sustainable and energy efficient. They just don’t have enough hours in the day to work on that while running their businesses and managing their crops,” he said. “This will enable site visitors to cross the state and help stakeholders bridge the gap and introduce new methods to them.”

Hayes said the grant will support experiential learning opportunities for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to an extension setting, meeting and working with producers who have been operating in their chosen field for years.

“They get the idea of what each stakeholder has gone through to keep their businesses going,” he said. “Being able to help provide them the reports, templates and to generate some numbers for them to put into a grant application has been an awesome, eye-opening opportunity for the students.”

Citing solar and wind as emerging renewable energy opportunities in the state, Robert said the partnership was a long time coming, adding that the AgCenter would prioritize projects from distressed and disadvantaged communities.

“We know that this initiative will underscore our commitment to rural communities and foster economic development through its 64 parishes offices across the state,” she said. “Hopefully this partnership will lead to more down the road and opportunities to work together for ag producers and small businesses in Louisiana.”

For more information or to apply for USDA REAP funding, visit https://bit.ly/REAPgrant.

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