Utilities share in opportunity to lead the way on energy issues, says agribusiness leader

Michigan producers have taken steps in recent years to improve sustainability and increase energy efficiency.

LANSING – Utility companies in Michigan have a significant opportunity to help Michigan agriculture continue to grow by improving communication access and energy efficiency programs, said Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum at Monday's 2014 Michigan Forum on Economic Regulatory Policy.

"Agribusinesses and utility providers have to work together on how we'll handle increasing agricultural production, and electric and natural gas demand," said Byrum. "Michigan agribusinesses pay the highest electricity costs in the Midwest today, which is a real barrier as production continues to expand. Agriculture will need reliable access to energy in the years ahead and we need to focus on the future when it comes to energy efficiency."

Agribusinesses need energy at every point along the supply chain – planting, harvesting, packaging and transporting food that accounts for a $96-billion industry in Michigan. As a result, disruptions and price volatility in the energy sector have a critical impact on agriculture's bottom line. In particular, Byrum noted the recent propane shortage in Michigan and across the region has put more attention on possibly expanding natural gas availability in the state.

Energy demand in the agricultural sector, from farms to businesses that handle grain and provide fertilizer, seed and other inputs increases every year as the industry expands. Byrum noted that Michigan grain production has already increased from 172.8 Million Metric Tons (MMT) in 1972 to 541.1 MMT last year. Production is on track to reach 874.9 MMT by 2025.

Michigan producers have taken steps in recent years to improve sustainability and increase energy efficiency. For example, the Michigan Milk Producers Association and Michigan State University have partnered since 2010 to conduct more than 100 energy audits on Michigan dairy operations, identifying opportunities to cut energy consumption by nearly 50 percent. This proactive effort is just one example of a commitment in the Michigan agriculture sector to cut energy consumption in the coming years.

At the same meeting, Garrick Rochow, Vice President of Consumers Energy, outlined the energy provider's commitment to Michigan agriculture across 22 key areas, each aimed at helping producers increase energy efficiency in the coming years.

"Agriculture is growing, and we need utility infrastructure to power that growth," said Byrum. "The Michigan Agri-Business Association worked closely with Consumers Energy to identify many of these new energy efficiency practices that qualify for support from the utility. We look forward to an ongoing, robust dialogue with all utilities to help us grow and reduce our energy use through efficiency programs."

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