BUNNLEVEL, N.C. — Without fail, farmers in the Triangle use a lot of energy – to power tractors, heat greenhouses, process waste and pump water to growing crops.
Thanks to technology, however, a trio of farmers in Harnett County is proving that using energy doesn't have to hurt their wallets or the environment. They're all using cutting edge technology, methods that help them avoid using fossil fuels and save money all at once.
Ryan Patterson, of Broadway, uses a wood-fired boiler to generate heat in several places on his farm. In the summer, the heat generated by the boiler helps cure tobacco.
When it's cold, Patterson said he hauls his boiler – which burns scrap wood at a tenth of the cost of natural gas – to his greenhouses to keep his tomatoes warm.
"The wood chips come from local sawmills, mainly waste product from them," Patterson said.
Down the road, Tom Butler has started converting hog waste into electricity on his farm.
Using a system of tarps, Butler traps methane from hog waste and then burns it to generate electricity. The method also keeps the greenhouse gas from escaping into the atmosphere and contains about 85 percent of the odor.
"It feels great," Butler said of going green. "We think we're doing the right thing."
At Little River Trails Aquaculture in Bunnlevel, fish eat and swim in water heated and cooled by the temperatures of the earth. A geothermal heat pump pushes heated or cooled water back into the tanks at the farm's own sewage treatment plant.
Stan Crisp, of Geothermal Strategies, said the methods being employed by Patterson, Butler and Little River Trails are groundbreaking.
"Very few places in North Carolina and around the world are doing this," he said.
Gary Pierce, a cooperative extension agent, agrees. He said the methods are worth using all over the state.
"It can serve as an example so we can replicate it in other areas," he said. "Even if they're not in agriculture."