A USDA survey shows that farmers are increasingly using renewable energy to power their operations. Nearly one quarter of the nation's total, 1,956 farms, are in California. The study ended in 2009 so the numbers have certainly increased since then.
Solar photovoltaic and solar thermal led the list. Solar photovoltaic creates electricity using the familiar solar panels while solar thermal heats water for cooking, hot water, and for heating buildings. Obviously, if a farmer can heat facilities using the sun, he will not only save money, but will also have a reliable supply on his own property too.
Wind turbines were next in popularity, followed by methane digesters, which turn manure into methane which is then used to create power. The digesters cost over $1 million, but in addition to being a power source, they also save major time and money that would be spent putting manure in open ponds and then somehow managing it. Clearly, this is a much better solution, if only for large livestock and dairy operations.
This study covers farms creating energy for their own use, so the actual number of farms with renewable energy, especially wind turbines, is much higher. Some examples of California farms with renewable energy include:
Fiscalini Farms in Modesto has 1,500 cattle and two methane digesters that create so much energy from cow manure that it completely powers their large cheese factory - and 200 nearby homes as well. And it's all from cow poo. However, the digesters produce nitrous oxide even while cutting down on greenhouse gases so regulators are mandating additional controls on the digesters. The sad truth is that the Central Valley has some of the most polluted air in California.
Del Mar Farms in Patterson has installed solar panels on their packing operation roof using tax credits and incentives to help fund it.
Lundberg Family Farms, a leader in organic rice, now operates their warehouse near Sacramento using 100% solar power. Their CEO says:
"Solar power not only makes sense environmentally, it's also good business. Over the long haul, what is cheaper and more reliable than energy from the sun?"
Limoneira in Santa Paula has a whopping 1 MW of solar power that powers the water pumps on their 7,000 acre produce farm.
Plus, many farms have small wind turbines that generate power to pump water and run facilities.
While these farmers may indeed be environmentally conscious, renewable energy also saves them money and provides a steady source of power regardless of what oil prices are doing. And California is leading the nation in renewable energy for farms.