USDA grants help upgrade local farmers

ruce Esham of Wesetwood Farms, Inc. who sold the grain dryer to the Milford Grain Company stands in front of the new device with Bruce Weaver of Delaware’s USDA office, Milford Grain Company General Manager Marcus Holland and Sam Wikkers, Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Bruce Esham of Wesetwood Farms, Inc. who sold the grain dryer to the Milford Grain Company stands in front of the new device with Bruce Weaver of Delaware’s USDA office, Milford Grain Company General Manager Marcus Holland and Sam Rikkers, Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

MILFORD — The Milford Grain Company recently saw an upgrade, the first of its kind for the business since its inception in 1974.

A new grain dryer for the Shawnee Road location would save energy, reduce costs and be more efficient for the local farmers who own the company, according to General Manager Marcus Hammond.

But the old one, installed in 1974, needed to be replaced first at a cost of $251,668.

With help from the USDA which supplied $62,924 towards the new energy efficient grain dryer and a loan through M&T Bank, the Milford Grain Company was able to demolish the old dryer last year, replace it with the new and work on several other fixes around the location.

“You have to invest money to make money,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer that we had to do that.”

The loan totaled more than $650,000 for all of the changes and repairs needed at the Milford-based company.

“We’re able to save some of the money now and use it for other issues to help keep us running smoothly,” Mr. Hammond. “I’m really glad that people are actually interested because that amount of money really helped our farmers.”

The new dryer has now been in operation for about a year, he added.

More investment opportunities through the USDA could be available to the company in the future should they choose to switch from using propane to natural gas, according to Sam Rikkers, Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

“We knew making changes would be hard, but this [USDA grant] pushed it over the top for us,” Mr. Hammond said.

Officials from the state and national USDA organizations were on hand Friday for a visit to the Milford Grain Company and several other farms in the area to see the impact of grant funds in action.

Upgrades to local farms and businesses help owners expand production, hire more people, “and all at the same time, help mitigate climate change,” Mr. Rikkers added.

“Since 2010, farmers across the country have doubled their use of renewables and energy efficiencies. It’s good for our bottom lines and the farmers’. And they are as committed to the environment as anybody else,” he said.

Sam Rikkers, Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, talks to farmer John Brown during a visit by the USDA to L and J Farm to view the impact of grant funding in action. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

Sam Rikkers, Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, talks to farmer John Brown during a visit by the USDA to L and J Farm to view the impact of grant funding in action. The Chronicle/Jennifer Antonik

L and J Farm also visited

Linda and John Brown transitioned their farm to all organic in 2014 as the first farm in Delaware to do so.

They currently grow chickens for Perdue.

Above and beyond rigorous regulations behind having an organic farm, the family also likes to stay organic and eco-friendly themselves.

They drink organic coffee and have a hybric vehicle which runs on both gas and electric.

With the help of the USDA, L and J Farm installed a solar array last year, which is a group of solar panels wired together to help power the farm utilizing solar energy.

The 200 solar panels at the property can create up to 50 kilowatts of energy per month, which is just what the farm uses monthly when no birds are occupying the four chicken houses located on the property.

During the summertime at peak energy use, the farm uses about 100 kilowatts of energy.

The couple said they are not currently looking to upgrade the system to match that need because it only accounts for two months out of the year.

To help fund the solar array, the USDA provided $43,525. Mr. and Mrs. Brown took out a loan to cover the rest of the costs.

“It’s just exciting to see how many people are getting involved,” Mr. Brown said.

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