Just as the sun and water provide power to crops in the field, farmers need energy for drying, processing, packaging and transporting their product for sales among many other areas.
Managing energy costs is critical to business, says Great Lakes Potato Chip Company co-founder Chris Girrbach. The Traverse City-based company produces kettle potato and tortilla chips. Chris founded the company in 2010 with his father, Ed. Great Lakes Potato Chips sources the majority of its potatoes from Michigan and ships to seven states and Canada. The company has grown between 30 and 45 percent each year since beginning production.
“Our main energy usage is propane, and this year we will consume roughly 50,000 gallons of it,” Girrbach says. “We are continually looking for ways to reduce energy consumption, including upgrading equipment that will be more efficient.”
Great Lakes Potato Chips relies on CHS, Inc., a farmer-owned company in Hamilton. “There are three things important to run a successful business: good labor, good staff and good energy. We can’t operate if we run low on energy and we’ve got a great partner in CHS.”
Working With Farms
DTE Energy is a Detroit-based diversified energy company with a national reach. In addition to its 2.2 million electric and 1.2 million natural gas customers in Michigan, DTE also works on industrial projects, natural gas pipelines, and energy storage.
“DTE is committed to working with the agricultural community and we offer several services that can help both well-established organizations in our service territory and potential newcomers,” says Kinnis Wooten, a senior sales executive who works with the state’s food and agriculture industry. “From energy-efficiency reviews to identifying new sites, DTE makes Michigan a great place to grow.”
When Snider Farms in Oceana County began looking for a new energy source to better control operational costs, Andy and Beth Snider reached out to DTE. The company worked with the Sniders to extend a gas line to serve the farm, and then provided advice as they replaced or revamped nearly 20 pieces of equipment to convert their operation to natural gas.
Snider Farms raises turkeys for market and weaned pigs for other farms, and they grow grains, including corn, rye and soy, to make feed for their livestock. The birds live uncaged in 33,000-square-foot barns that must be heated to exacting specifications for much of the year. When newly hatched, the turkeys require a barn temperature of 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Should the farm’s energy supply be cut off, the young turkeys would not survive.
“Agriculture is a competitive business and farmers have to look for every advantage,” Wooten says. “DTE wants to help the food and farm industry with energy-conserving and money-saving ideas.”
One of the nation’s largest utility companies was founded in Michigan by a flour mill operator and entrepreneur, forever tying its history to the food and agriculture industry. Consumers Energy, founded in 1886 by William Augustine Foote, now serves 6.7 million customers with electricity and natural gas.
“Consumers Energy is proud to work side by side with farmers, who help make up the backbone of our state’s economy,” says Brian Wheeler, senior public information director for Consumers Energy/CMS Energy. “We work to help Michigan’s food and agricultural economy thrive, from ensuring the infrastructure is in place for farms to operate to providing them with energy solutions.”
Wheeler notes the company’s energy efficiency and business customer care teams also work to provide energy solutions to farmers – making sure there’s appropriate infrastructure, helping them identify and apply for energy-efficiency incentives for projects that can reduce energy use and costs.
The Michigan Farm Energy Audit Program is another resource for helping farmers manage energy costs. Benefits of these energy audits include being able to pinpoint the sources of energy waste, identifying energy-efficient technologies that can reduce farm energy use, and receiving energy-efficient equipment recommendations.