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Agriculture panel

From left, Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck; Democratic Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake; Rachel (Czub) McDermott; and Jennifer Koval. All of them except Woerner are farmers and all spoke at a Wednesday forum in Ballston Spa about the problems facing agriculture and how those problems can be solved.

BALLSTON SPA — “Cow power” could be the next big green energy in New York state — if the Public Service Commission will support the technology, Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner said.

“Cow power is probably one of the greatest opportunities we have for green energy in this state,” she said at a Saratoga County agriculture meeting at Ellms Family Farm on Wednesday. “If we had on-farm (manure) digesters on every farm of 200 or more cows, we would cut our greenhouse gas 50 percent by 2030.”

There are only 24 digesters in the state now that sell power to the state power grid. Of those, half need upgrades and are facing shutdown, Woerner said.

“They haven’t generated enough income to warrant reinvestment in them,” she said.

She blamed the Public Service Commission, which she said has calculated a utility price that is much too low for digesters. The price is what the operator is paid for power they sell to the state’s power grid. It is based on their cost of producing that power, but the PSC figure is too low to make digesters economically viable, she said.

“We have to fix that,” she said. “We really need the PSC and the utility companies to get on board.”

Woerner said the PSC also isn’t taking into account the fact that digesters reduce environmental harm from manure.

“There is a cost to the environment if you don’t do it,” she said.

She was speaking on a panel hosted by the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, which on Wednesday released the first-ever county Agricultural Index. The index studied the agricultural sector’s impact on the county’s economy, and found that even though the number of farms has been shrinking, they have a huge impact.

Farms in the county generated an estimated $500 million annually in economic impacts, ranging from producing milk to raising and selling racehorses.

The panel focused on problems facing the agricultural sector.

Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck said farms like his desperately need a more reliable source of power. He described regular brown-outs at his farm over the past decades as multiple farms pulled on the electricity in his neighborhood.

“So I call on National Grid. We need to continue to invest in infrastructure,” he said, adding that farms need three-phase electricity.

“Twenty years from now, probably we’ll use digesters to produce energy,” he added.

Panelists also discussed the problem of getting the next generation to run the farm. First of all, the business has to be economically viable, Peck said.

But more than that, high schools need to offer agriculture classes, said panelist Jennifer Koval, whose family runs a farm in the town of Saratoga. She cited positively the classes offered at the Schuylerville Central School District.

“We need more schools to do that,” she said.

Her husband took over the family farm at 16, when his father died suddenly. He and his brother are the third generation on the farm. Koval’s children would be the fourth generation — if they take it over.

In the meantime, Koval’s husband has worked the farm for more than 30 years.

“We’re anxious to pass it on,” she said. “It’s a great job if you like doing different things every day. But it is stressful and it is very physically demanding.”

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You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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