By Ashley Conroy
MADISON COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - Economic opportunities in rural Mississippi could be on the horizon. It's part of an initiative from U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote rural development and the use of biodiesel nationwide.
Two under secretaries from the USDA toured Bruce Craft Farms in Madison County Tuesday to announce a $213,800 federal grant from through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that will be given to eight Mississippi farmers to purchase new equipment.
Bruce Craft has owned and operated his families land since 1983. They harvest corn, cotton, and soy beans.
Craft says since Hurricane Katrina struck nearly five years ago, they started using used vegetable oil as part of their fuel to harvest their land because diesel fuel soared more than $4 dollars a gallon.
"To be honest we started trying to do it, to keep the cost of our fuel down," Craft said.
In one of their older tractors, Craft says they've been able to harvest production with the fuel tank filled with 37 percent used vegetable oil.
However, he says the production of their alternative fuel has slowed since gas prices have gone down and a federal credit, that paid back .99 cents for every gallon of biodiesel fuel produced, stopped.
"It costs us about a dollar a gallon to make it, so really it's not cost effective right now," Craft said.
In the future, he hopes to reduce regular diesel use by 20 percent.
USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager says using renewable energy sources in America will help bounce back the economy.
"We tend to want to transport things long distances. Well what's wrong with producing it locally and selling it locally. It makes a lot of sense and it keeps your local economy going," Tonsager said.
"We're constantly working with private land owners to improve the way we grow crops and the way we conduct our business," USDA Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman said.
The Craft family are firm believers that if everyone used even a small amount of alternative fuels everyday, the economy could potentially take care of itself.
"If we can just replace 10 percent of our energy with alternative crops, that's 10 percent of our money that's not going out of the country," Craft said.
©2010 WLBT. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.