Solar Power

Eric Rygg, president of Silver Spring Foods, talked June 24 about their new 288-panel solar power system Wednesday at Huntsinger Farms south of Eau Claire. The panels will generate about 18% of the power used on the farm annually.

With the flip of a switch Wednesday morning, 288 solar panels at Huntsinger Farms started generating energy. Over the course of the year, solar power should generate about 144,000 kilowatt hours, or about 18% of all the energy used at the farm each year.

The solar panels were installed over a two-week period beginning in late May.

Huntsinger Farms and Silver Spring Foods are hosting the 2021 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Eau Claire County on 460 acres, just southwest of city limits.

Eric Rygg, Silver Spring Foods president, said they decided last year to purchase the solar technology.

“I think Farm Technology Days was a big factor for us in making this investment,” Rygg said. “Being able to showcase this, and inspire others, was important to us. And we’ll have a year’s worth of data to share, and show the benefits.”

The farm houses the massive underground horseradish business, with large coolers to store and preserve the roots.

“We have 100% humidity in there, so the horseradish doesn’t dry out,” Rygg explained. “This is just another step we’re taking toward sustainability.”

Rygg declined to divulge the cost of the system but said he anticipates a return on investment in seven or eight years. They also have applied for grants to help cover the costs.

Tim Dilley, director of business development at Hudson-based Carlson Electric, installed the system. Dilley said the company installs 40 to 50 systems a year, and the one installed at Huntsinger Farms is the largest allowed by Xcel Energy. Dilley said the solar panels are great for sustainability and lower the farm’s carbon footprint.

However, Dilley said very few of their systems have been installed on farms. However, policy changes are making it easier for farms to look at solar technology.

“Farms are ideal because they have the land,” Dilley said.

Silver Spring Foods, a subsidiary of Huntsinger Farms, is the world’s largest grower and processor of horseradish. Rygg said the business has seen a 123% growth in online sales because of shelter-in-place orders, as more people are buying their products for dining at home. They also purchased Detroit-based Brede Foods horseradish company in March, allowing for a 12% growth in product.

About 40,000 patrons from across the state and Midwest are anticipated to attend the 2021 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. About 500 commercial exhibitors will be on hand. The show was slated for July 21-23, 2020, but was postponed a year because of COVID-19 concerns.