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Sonoma County farmers, Ford team up for pilot project to put electric vehicles in local vineyards

Three grape growers — Bevill Vineyard Management and Vino Farms in Healdsburg and Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol — will have a fleet of electric vehicles to use in the program.|

A few Sonoma County farmers Tuesday kicked off an ambitious new environmental initiative with Ford Motor Co. to go green through a fleet of electric vehicles and charging stations in their vineyards.

The pilot project between members of the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group and the Dearborn, Michigan, automaker is the latest effort by local agriculture leaders to help reduce carbon emissions, especially as California has set an ambitious goal of curbing greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

Three grape growers — Bevill Vineyard Management, Vino Farms in Healdsburg and Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol — will use a small fleet of electric vehicles under the program, most notably the highly anticipated F-150 Lightning Pro and E-Transit cargo vans. Also part of the package, charging stations and software to maintain their fleet.

“Most of our customers are already there. They know that electric vehicles are better for their bottom line and the planet,” said Jim Farley, chief executive officer of Ford.

Farley made the announcement at Dutton Ranch that also featured Marc Benioff, founder of the Salesforce cloud computer company who owns a home in the area.

Salesforce is collaborating with Ford on new subscription software for businesses to manage its vehicle fleet for maintenance and fuel cost.

“And for winemakers here in Sonoma, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. More dangerous wildfires. Different growing seasons. They feel the impact of climate change and the urgency to change and evolve,” Farley said.

The project is the most significant environmental step taken by local farmers since a Winegrowers campaign that eventually got almost all of the 57,000 acres of county vineyards to be independently certified as sustainable. There is, however, some confusion over what that term represents in the marketplace and questions over how much those goals help in reducing greenhouse gases.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, noted the partnership with Ford could provide metrics on how much her members are reducing their carbon emissions.

“These folks (Ford) are going to know ... what we did with less idling time month over month … how much fuel did we burn week over week?” Kruse said. “We can actually start to model that with all of our different-sized fleets and farms here then you can put that study together.”

Kruse reached out to Ford last year after it unveiled the electric-powered F-150 and worked with Ford Pro, its new division that serves commercial businesses and government. The auto giant late last year capped reservations of the F-150 Lightning at 200,000 as a result of huge demand after prototypes were unveiled at a price of almost $40,000.

The standard Ford F-150 has been the country’s top-selling vehicle for several years.

Ford Pro is expected to generate about $45 billion by 2025 for Ford with revenue also coming from financing and support services, Farley said.

“As it grows, Ford Pro will have a larger and larger impact on our economy,” he added.

The company will face competition in that field from others, such as Tesla and Rivian, a startup that is building electric delivery vans for Amazon, as automakers race to capture a piece of the growing market.

“We really found that the mission of being sustainable agriculture was something that was incredibly important,” said Wanda Young, global chief marketing officer for Ford Pro. “We wanted to help because we know we could help lower emissions across Sonoma County.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the country come from transportation.

Besides reaping good publicity of being environmental stewards, local farmers will likely see a financial benefit in reducing gas costs.

For example, Dutton Ranch has fuel costs on average of about $5,000 per month to maintain its vineyards and apple orchards. The ranch has more than 100 vehicles with more than 40 Ford trucks of various sizes, said Joe Dutton, co-owner of the ranch with his brother Steve.

“The foreman have them. They are hauling not only tools and fuel out into the field; they will have the water and towing the bathrooms that we need out in each field,” Joe Dutton said.

Steve Dutton noted that the software could help save in maintenance cost for their vehicles, which totals more than $100,000 annually.

“For us, it’s eye-opening,” he said when glancing at a Ford Pro monitor that tracked his fleet. “I looked at these things like the recall. I had no idea that some of our vehicles had recalls on them.”

Kruse called the pilot project “the first step” in the effort as grape growers have other vehicles they use to harvest their fruit. They include small tractors that go between the vines and semitrailers that haul grapes to wineries.

Those types of vehicles will still need to go electric powered even though that is a smaller marketplace than those for the standard pickup. “They all are in such limited use compared to the truck,” Kruse said. “This is the (first) leap.”

Duff Bevill, owner of Bevill Vineyard Management that oversees 1,200 vineyard acres, said there has been more of a focus on reducing carbon within the past couple of years among local growers.

“It’s a constant improvement philosophy,” Bevill said. “That fits in this narrative. It’s a story we can tell.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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