California Agricultural Businesses: Managing Energy and the Bottom Line

Working with SCE, these businesses are taking part in the utility’s energy efficiency programs to conserve energy and bring down costs.

February 20, 2014 | By Robert Laffoon Villegas @SCE_RobertLV

The Merrit family has been farming in California for three generations. Starting in the Imperial Valley, the family moved to the Central Valley and now E.W. Merritt Farms calls Porterville home. They grow a range of crops, including cotton, olives, alfalfa and grapes. They also operate a series of related agricultural businesses, including cattle ranching, transportation and feed. 

Managing their costs is key to the success of the business, so for the past three years E.W. Meritt Farms has worked with Southern California Edison (SCE) and its Automated Demand Response Program to help manage their energy consumption.

“We are facing challenging times, with both the costs of doing business going up and the drought that is impacting all of California,” said Mark Merrit, owner of E.W. Merrit.

The company operates over 100 deep wells. When a response event is called, the farm’s system is set to automatically shut down their pumps to immediately start conserving energy.

“Participating in the system is working for us,” said Merritt. “It is a win-win situation. It helps us control costs and also helps the state when power is tight.” 

The nature of agricultural production has changed dramatically since SCE began partnering with its agricultural customers in the Central Valley. Agricultural businesses have expanded from farming and ranching to include warehousing, cold storage and food processing, manufacturing and international trade.

Mark Watte, owner and partner of George Watte & Sons Farm in Tulare, knows that managing a modern agricultural business requires managing both water and energy. 

“Canal water meets about half of the crops’ water needs, with the rest depending on water pumped from below ground,” said Watte. “For those crops, the farm relies on pumps, which probably account for about 90 percent of our energy use.”

Watte & Sons is participating in SCE’s free Pump Testing Services program, a program that has been helping agricultural customers for over 100 years. Pump testing allows agricultural customers to increase system and overall energy efficiency and reduce their costs.

“It’s expensive to pull pumps, and there’s no opportunity for visual inspection. It’s all about the measurements,” said Watte. “When I get the results of an SCE pump test, I feel it’s absolutely done right.”

The role that technology plays in the agricultural industry has changed, and along with that change has come an ever-increasing focus on energy use and conservation. SCE offers a wide-range of programs for its agricultural customers and works closely with the Central Valley community. 

For the past five years, Tod Bartholomay, a manager with SCE’s Customer Programs and Services department, has participated in the World Ag Expo in Tulare, noting that SCE has participated in the event for over 30 years.

This year, as the agricultural community faces challenges, including severe drought conditions, SCE provided tools and technology solutions at their Ag Expo booth, to help customers better manage their energy usage.

“The expo provides us a unique opportunity to deepen the relationship with our agricultural business customers as well as residential customers,” said Bartholomay.

SCE representatives at the Expo provided free on-site rate analysis for both business and residential customers. The analysis helps customers understand how they use energy on a daily basis, and with the personalized analysis, they can decide what on-line tools, energy programs and technology can make a difference in their daily operations and in their homes.

The booth also featured daily electrical safety demonstrations with SCE linemen, and offered important reminders to businesses and residents about working safely around power lines and equipment. There were also safety messages reminding Expo attendees to never approach a downed power line and to call 911. 

SCE Business Customers Talk About Energy Efficiency:

Topics: Customer Service