Miller Family Farm has a unique competitive edge – the farm productivity reaches its peak during the off season when other farms lie dormant!
Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where winters are long and growing seasons are short, the farm has embraced energy efficiency to cater to the growing number of customers craving farm to market freshness when buying produce.
Rob Miller, General Manager of Miller Family Farm, had a desire to maximize the productivity of the property his family owns. His quest led him to a unique combination of farming techniques that allows him to produce fresh vegetables and crisp lettuce during those periods when produce is usually trucked in from distant states and countries. The time factors associated with long distance transportation of produce results in lower quality products in comparison to produce picked at peak ripeness and within hours of being sold!
“Miller Family Farm has a unique competitive edge – the farm productivity reaches its peak during the off season when other farms lie dormant!”
With the realization that there was a growing demand for high quality produce, Miller created an indoor growing operation using a combination of greenhouses and barns. The operation can function year-round and the result is what he calls “Rolls Royce quality” produce of which his customers readily agree.
Even though Miller’s clients are typically wholesalers, when their customers experience the taste of Miller Family Farm products, and learn they are locally grown, they often venture out to the farm to learn more. Once at the farm they get a fascinating education on a whole new way of farming!
The farming operation uses a cutting edge Clear Flow Aquaponic Systems® which grows plants on a bath of water without any soil. The system uses 1/10th the water necessary for growing similar plants outdoors. What makes the system so unique is that it is supplied by liquid from large vats containing live fish that produce the nitrate rich water needed to nourish the plants.
Because of the short daylight and cold temperatures associated with winter at the farm’s northern location, there is a significant energy expense for supplemental lighting and heating.
Initially the operation used 1000 watt High Pressure Sodium bulbs which are relatively inexpensive to purchase but use lots of electricity during operation. Upon discovery of the TotalGrow LED lighting system, and the realization that the farm could cut electric costs by more than half, Rob decided that the numbers made the conversion to LED a necessity. Another deciding factor was that the average life span of the sodium bulb was 3.1 years and for the TotalGrow it was 20.1 years. Less maintenance and replacement costs equal increased profitability.
In addition to the energy saving and operating life benefits, an important characteristic of TotalGrow lighting is that it provides the optimal light spectrum for plant growth and development. Compared to traditional lighting such as high pressure sodium – which was developed for the human eye not growing flowers or vegetables – plants mature faster thereby shortening the grow cycle, weigh more and are of higher overall quality. This is critical for an operation such as Rob’s.
An operation requiring lots of heat and electricity must look at all options when it comes to reducing the use and cost of energy.
Heating is also another major expense on the farm. Miller Family Farms burns 20 – 30 cords of wood per year and purchases 20,000 gallons of propane during the same time frame. That heat is necessary to keep the plants growing and the fish healthy.
While the price of propane has dropped over the last few years, Miller knows it’s only a matter of time before the price cycles back up again. An operation that requires lots of heat and 16 – 18 hours of supplemental lighting each day must look at all options when it comes to reducing the use and cost of energy.
Future plans for the farm are highly focused on energy efficiency. Rob is considering the addition of solar electrical generation, geothermal heating and a bio digester as an on-site source for energy. The problem is those options often require significant upfront costs that could place a financial burden on Rob’s operation.
To eliminate any financial burden Rob is looking at Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing after learning about the energy specific financing mechanism from EAG’s Vice President, Curt Monhart. PACE allows a business to leverage future energy savings to pay for energy efficient upgrades today. Because PACE can be used to fund up to 100% of energy efficiency projects, Miller will not have to divert any of the present cash flow his business generates. By statute, PACE can only be used on projects that result in an improved financial outcome. When used properly PACE would actually free up cash that presently is sent to the wood and propane suppliers. That money could then be used to expand the farm’s capabilities for serving more clients.
“Rob Miller is a pleasure to work with and is the ideal customer for energy efficiency projects. Financially savvy, he places the emphasis on total life cycle costs and benefits, not initial acquisition costs. This approach will serve Rob well when planning future energy efficiency upgrades.” Curt Monhart
The growing list of clients that depend on the products grown by Miller Family Farm are wholesalers, grocery stores, and restaurants. All of those businesses are located within a 45 minute radius of the farm – talk about efficiency!
Miller Family Farm produces an impressive list of high quality natural products that are in demand by customers who are paying more attention to where their produce is grown and how it is grown. Rob Miller has blended cutting edge technology with a keen focus on energy efficiency in order to create products that his clients are delighted to offer and customers savor when they are consumed.
Congratulations Rob Miller and Miller Family Farm!
Photo Credit: Miller Family Farm