Ventura County is much in the spotlight these days.
On July 18 the Los Angeles Times suddenly woke up to the county’s rich history as a location for film production. The newspaper also gave a nod to renewed marketing efforts by Bruce Stenslie and the team at EDC-VC, a driving force behind an effort to get more filming and post-production work done in the county.
But perhaps more relevant to the broader business community is the emergence of Ventura County as a substantial hub for innovation in energy efficiency when it comes to agriculture. An event at Gills Onions in Oxnard on July 11 underscored just how extensive that effort has become.
Gills, already known for using methane waste from onion processing to produce electricity, has gone one step beyond merely generating power. It’s now using advanced battery technology to store electricity in the evening hours and discharge it during the daytime when peak rates for large users are 22 cents a kilowatt hour, some 2.5 times higher than off-peak rates of about 9 cents.
In an adjacent site, Duda Fresh Foods, another family-owned business that happens to be one of the world’s largest celery processors, has installed nearly a megawatt of conventional solar panels that will provide much of its power during daylight hours. A few years ago, citrus grower Limoneira Co. pioneered the idea of greening food processing when it opened a solar field that runs its lemon packing operations. Reducing peak electricity costs has helped Limoneira dramatically increase its throughput, and it’s now running two shifts.
Now, with Gills, Duda and tomato grower Houweling’s embracing the new standards for energy efficiency, Ventura County farmers are in a position to challenge the world on a cost-competitive basis.
Which brings us to two thoughts.
First, Ventura County’s ability to be an attractive location for filming depends heavily on its ability to preserve its historic landscape and culture.
Second, the Ventura County farmers are a clever and forward-thinking lot. They are reasonably certain that someday there will be a tax on carbon and they are moving quietly but profitably to anticipate what the rules might be. In the case of Gills, getting onion waste methane out of the waste stream could mean millions of dollars a year in cost savings over time.
Just like a well-crafted movie script, there is more than meets the eye to what’s going on in Ventura County agriculture. It won’t be too long before the rest of the world begins to take notice.