Report highlights rural biodiesel production benefits

By Megan Skauge | March 09, 2009
Web exclusive posted March 13, 2009, at 10:17 a.m. CST

A new report released by the Western Organization of Resource Councils on March 12 examines small and community-scale biodiesel production, the experiences of farmers and entrepreneurs in their endeavors and the role it plays in rural economic development. The report, "Homegrown Prosperity from the Bottom Up," presents six case studies of biodiesel plants emerging in rural economies across the region.

Wilbur Wood, a cowriter of the report asked, "Can localized production and distribution of biodiesel over large portions of the West disengage family farmers and ranchers from domination by the global fossil fuel market, can it enhance both fuel and food security, create jobs, and keep money in local communities?" After six months of research, Wood said that answer is yes.

Brett Earl, co-owner of Earl Fisher Biofuels LLP in Chester, Mont., is featured in case study number one. Earl views biodiesel as a community-based industry. "We can grow the oil seeds locally, we can manufacture the fuel locally, and we can consume the products locally," he said. The facility currently operates at 275,000 gallons annually and employs three full-time employees, with plans to expand to 1 MMgy and employ six to ten workers. Earl said that would make Earl Fisher Biofuels the third largest employer in the small town of Chester. When operating at a larger scale, Earl wants to share it with other rural communities in Montana, proving it can work.

Case study number two features a biodiesel project in the remote Costilla County, Colo., which is already seeing positive effects.

"Though this project is still in its infancy stages, the county has displaced several thousand gallons of diesel fuel with its own biodiesel," said Ben Doon, comanager of the Costilla County Biodiesel Project. "The facility has created five jobs in an area desperate for new employment opportunities. It's created a new local and reliable market for oil seed crops and it's given area ranchers a local, low cost option for premium protein feed. In addition, the project has brought in over $535,000 in grant funds."

WORC said the case studies in the report are prime examples that community-scale biodiesel production will spark economic growth for rural areas and is a reason policy should be developed to aid small-scale production. "We urge federal and state officials to make a strong commitment to helping stimulate rural economies by adopting policies that build a strong and lasting foundation for the establishment of small and community-scale biodiesel facilities throughout the region," said Helen Waller, Northern Plains Resource Council member and a Montana farmer.

The full report can be viewed at
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