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ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday nearly $21 million would be awarded to help state dairy farmers convert farm waste to renewable energy and help improve business operations as part of the state's booming yogurt industry.

Dairy manure and other organic wastes can be pumped into tanks where bacteria break down the waste, creating a methane-rich gas called biogas. Biogas can be burned to produce electricity and heat.

There been an increase in waste from dairy farms as the supply grows for milk to help the state's increasing number of yogurt factories. New York ranks fourth in the nation for milk production.

"With this funding, we are providing significant financial assistance to farmers so they can cut their energy costs, increase efficiencies in their operations, and develop plans to extend their businesses and contribute to cleaner communities," Cuomo said in a statement.

Starting Friday, the state Energy Research and Development Authority will use $20 million to install the anaerobic digester technology that produces renewable energy. Each farm, food processing manufacturer, and wastewater site will be eligible for up to $2 million per project.

Farmers have been clamoring for help to purchase the digesters.

"The anaerobic digester funding coupled with the Dairy Acceleration Program funding is another step the state is taking, under Governor Cuomo, to assist farmers in reducing their operating costs and in generating clean energy," said John Rhodes, president of NYSERDA, in a statement.

NYSERDA and state Power Authority have already awarded nearly $30 million to support 20 digester projects.

Along with the funding for renewable energy, $850,000 will added to the Dairy Acceleration Program. Cuomo announced an initial $1 million for the program in August.

The program helps farms write a business plan and update their nutrient management plan, which is a system to address water quality and soil erosion.

To be eligible, farms must have complete financial records and preference will be given to farms with less than 300 cows. The funding can cover up to 80 percent of cost.

Dairy farmers may be eligible for $5,000 to write up a new business or facility growth plan and up to $4,500 to update their existing nutrient plan, or $6,000 to develop a new plan.

To apply, visit: http://ansci.cornell.edu/prodairy/dairy_acceleration

AHUPFL@Gannett.com

www.twitter.com/ashleyhupfl

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