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Photo: Three farm machines, in a field, that are powered by a mixture of diesel fuel and biodiesel. Link to photo information
ARS labs in the Southern Plains are increasing their use of alternative fuels such as biodiesel, which helps power these farm vehicles at the ARS research center in Beltsville, Maryland. Click the image for more information about it.

ARS Labs in Texas "Going Green"

By Don Comis
November 24, 2004

The greening of the Agricultural Research Service leapfrogged this year from the Beltsville, Md., area to the agency's Southern Plains Area (SPA), which includes Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

The ARS Conservation and Production Laboratory in Bushland, Texas, was the first winner of a new annual award called the Southern Plains Area Greening Award. This award recognizes ARS Southern Plains locations that have demonstrated progress in making environmentally friendly choices.

The Bushland lab has been using biodiesel since 2000 to power stationary engines used to generate electricity as part of a wind/hybrid power project. It will soon test emissions from various biodiesel fuels in these engines, in coordination with scientists at the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pa.

The new award is part of the SPA's implementation of the requirement by Title IX of the 2002 Farm Bill that all federal procurement offices give preference to USDA-designated biobased items as substitutes for petroleum or other less environmentally friendly ingredients. Biobased products are usually made, at least in significant part, from U.S. crops and animal products.

Chuck Onstad, the ARS Southern Plains Area Director at College Station, Texas, promoted the "Biobased Initiative" to his area, which includes 19 research locations. The strategy for implementing the initiative and the award is the idea of Mike Downing, the SPA Procurement and Realty Officer.

Downing participated in last year's Biobased Procurement Workshop at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Representatives of the Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC) spoke at the workshop. BARC has been a leader in the use of biobased products, from heating fuel to cleaning supplies. The center is operated by ARS, USDA's primary scientific research agency.

Now the Southern Plains Area promises to become a similar model for its part of the country.

Another of its locations, the Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., is using biobased products such as hydraulic tractor fluid, two-cycle engine oil, chain oil, grease, penetrating lubricant and diesel fuel conditioners.