EAU GALLE — On the Mellenthin Farm, shaving off inefficiencies and streamlining operations isn’t just good business sense, it’s an ethical imperative. And they’re recognized for it.
Owner Marty Mellenthin received an energy efficiency excellence award at an August ceremony on his Eau Galle farm. The list of improvements Mellenthin has made is impressive.
Leading up to 2020, Mellenthin installed high efficiency boilers and furnaces. He switched over to LED lights and installed irrigation variable frequency drives — devices that calibrate a pump’s output to its immediate needs. It was all designed to make his 10,000 acre corn and soybean farm more energy efficient.
The award was hailed by Mellenthin as the recognition of is decades-long pursuit of efficiency.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Mellenthin, matter of fact. “I guess that’s just the way we run our operation, that we just try to do what is efficient. If it’s saving energy or saving time or whatever the efficiency may be. We feel that’s important to maintain what we’ve got here from now into the future.”
Attending were State Rep. Warren Petryk, R-Town of Washington, state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick, as well as officials from Focus on Energy, Xcel Energy and the Wisconsin Public Services Commission.
It hasn’t just been time spent on the improvements. Melenthin estimates the farm invested $80,000 in these improvements, while its partners contributed an additional $12,000.
While it’s difficult to quantify the exact reduction in energy usage that will take place, Mellenthin said peak usage times with grain dryers and irrigators can sometimes mean thousands of dollars in electrical bills. Over the coming decade, he said, the benefits of these technologies will save Mellenthin Farms that and more.
Founded in 1965 by Mellenthin’s father, the family-owned farm is worked by Marty and his son, Tony Melenthin. They also have six employees who cultivate nearly 10,000 acres of soybeans and corn in Buffalo, Pierce and St. Croix counties.
Melenthin said he’s reached out and worked closely with government officials, nonprofits and corporations like Xcel Energy to find sustainable solutions for his farm. There is a wealth of knowledge and resources from these entities for farmers to utilize.
Mellenthin Farm’s achievement was described by Focus on Energy representatives as a model collaboration between farmers, government agents and nonprofits to cut costs and create more sustainable operations for agriculturists across Wisconsin.
First founded in 2001, Focus on Energy now collaborates with roughly 1,000 farms and agricultural businesses across Wisconsin a year, said Tad Beeksma, a technical lead for government and school solutions. As they pursue efficient and affordable operations, Focus on Family invests more than $2 million a year with its agricultural partners. They also serve as an advisory organization and liaison with utilities.
The breadth and scope of Focus on Energy’s mission encompasses Wisconsin agriculture, said Beeksma, who noted experts with the nonprofit will work with dairy farmers to install better cooling units, just as they’ll work to implement better irrigation systems in corn fields or integrate greenhouse equipment specialized for poultry farms.
“It’s about helping them understand their options and the impact that it will have for them financially and their energy savings as well,” Beeksma said.
Beeksma encouraged farmers to reach out to Focus on Energy if they’re interested in collaborating with the organization to improve their operations. More and more farms are doing so, said Beeksma, who said the issue of efficiency — whether it’s a cost-effective or moral issue — is gaining momentum in the statewide agriculture community.
“Farms have had a tough goal of it,” Beeksma said. “For them to be able to take more money home, rather than spending it on utilities, is a positive. Then it’s about saving energy. In general, conserving fossil fuels is a positive as well.”