Published July 1977 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Spreading Sunshine Over Our Farms There was once a time when rural America lagged far behind the cities in modern conveniences and in up-to-date mechanized production systems. That began to change in the 1930's, when the Rural Electrification Act brought energy to rural areas, upgrading communications and the production capabilities of farmers. Before that breakthrough, each farmer worked with his own energy the sweat of his brow. After the creation of REA, farmers had more horsepower with fewer horses, and more manpower with fewer men. A rapid increase in the use of machinery and energy-powered equipment brought impressive increases in the production of agricultural goods. If we were forced to return to a man-or-animal energy farm system, nearly one-third of the entire U.S. work force would be required just to produce food for the American population. There would no longer be agricultural products to export. We would be unable to maintain a decent standard of living, either in rural or urban areas. Since 1950, food and fiber production has increased more than 50 percent, while the labor requirement on farms has decreased. Energy use in rural America has quadrupled, however, and will continue to grow to meet world demands. New energy sources must be found for our farms. Congress has included within the Agricultural Act of 1977 a solar energy research component for just this purpose. It would focus on the use of sun energy to heat and cool farm buildings, pump water, dry crops, operate farm equipment, and store energy in one season for use in the next. Model solar energy farms and demonstration projects would be supported, and regional centers would coordinate efforts and inform farmers and rural businessmen of systems which work well. Because of the high cost of delivering energy to remote and isolated areas, solar units on farms would be cost-effective and practical. Farmers have always relied on the sun to help them do their jobs. With the final passage of this legislation, the Department of Agriculture will begin helping farmers to put the sun to work in new ways, replacing expensive and exhaustible fossil fuels without decreasing food production. Every citizen will benefit in the long run.