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Solar part of sustainability plan
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Solar part of sustainability plan

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – The COVID-19 pandemic prevented Huntsinger Farms – considered to be the world’s largest horseradish farm – from hosting the 2020 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. Instead the owners have agreed to host the 2021 event planned for July 20-22 at the farm’s home base near Eau Claire.

Ellis Huntsinger established the farm in 1929. Currently the business is owned by Nancy Bartusch, Huntsinger’s granddaughter, and her two sons, Eric Rygg and Ryan Rygg. The fourth-generation family-owned business is taking steps to position the company for the future. A 288-panel solar-array installation is just one recent development.

Eric Rygg is president of Huntsinger Farms as well as Silver Spring Foods, which produces a variety of horseradish sauces and mustards for both wholesale and retail customers. The family in March acquired Brede Foods, a horseradish company based in Detroit. As a result of the acquisition Silver Spring Foods expanded its horseradish supply by a million pounds, about a 12 percent increase; Brede Foods had contracts with growers in the St. Louis area. The move came at an opportune time because inclement weather in Huntsinger’s upper-Midwest growing area had reduced its 2019 horseradish supply by more than 1.5 million pounds.

Acquisition of Brede’s Farmer’s Brand horseradish also expanded Silver Spring’s distribution channel by about 1,000 new retailers – primarily in the northeastern United States as well as in Michigan. Again the timing was good. When COVID-19 stay-at-home orders resulted in the closing of restaurants and food-service operations, Silver Spring was better able to meet strong retail demand, Rygg said. It also expanded its online sales channels. The company reported 123 percent year-over-year growth in online sales for its Silver Spring, Kelchner’s and Bookbinder’s brands. Retail sales increased by 12.5 percent.

“As people have had to eat at home, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in interest on how to use our horseradish and mustard products to bring more flavor to their cooking,” he said. “We moved fast to provide additional buying options, and shift supply to grocery stores and other retailers around the country to meet demand. We anticipate this trend will continue for the rest of the year and beyond.”

Farm invests for future

Anticipating future needs is why Huntsinger’s owners decided to invest in a solar array, which was installed in May at the farm by Carlson Electric of Hayward, Wisconsin. Carlson Electric is an electrical contractor and solar installer serving commercial and residential customers. The company helped Huntsinger Farms apply for a Focus on Energy grant; the farming operation was awarded a $29,000 grant for the solar-power installation.

“We believe in sustainability,” Rygg said. “The sun we use to grow our crops also can be used to power our farm.”

With 288 panels the new solar array is expected to produce 144,000 kilowatt hours per year. That’s enough to supply about 18 percent of the farm’s annual energy demand, particularly for its cooling system. Horseradish roots are stored in a facility maintained at temperatures between 34 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility is equipped with a misting system to keep the horseradish fresh.

“We’ve also installed equipment that will enable the farm managers to monitor in real time (the) individual electrical circuits and cooler motors,” said Tim Dilley, director of business development for Carlson Electric.

That will help the managers see how much power the equipment uses and to make adjustments to further reduce the farm’s electric bills, he said.

Carlson said he’s seen growing adoption of solar power by farmers and greenhouse owners.

“More people are learning about the benefits of solar power as well as tax credits and grants available to them,” he said.

Huntsinger Farms will have a year of solar-energy monitoring under its belt by next year’s Farm Technology Days event.

“We’ll be happy to share how much electricity the system generated throughout the year,” Rygg said.

Visit huntsingerfarms.com and silverspringfoods.com and gosolarwi.com and wifarmtechnologydays.com for more information.

Lynn Grooms writes about the diversity of agriculture, including the industry’s newest ideas, research and technologies as a staff reporter for Agri-View based in Wisconsin.

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