California is easy to spot from space: It’s the place on the far left of the U.S., the area seemingly teetering on the edge of the Pacific.

But, if there were any doubt, astronauts could nail down their geography these days by the reflection emanating from the Golden State — not the glitter of gold, but the glare from hundreds of thousands of solar panels generating electric power.

California is the solar capital of the U.S., if not the world. There are now more than 72,000 systems in the state, generating an estimated 724 megawatts of power.

Agriculture is embracing solar just as rapidly as other industries and municipalities. There are too many incentives, financial and otherwise, for producers not to grab sunbeams.

Del Mar Farms’ packing operation at Patterson, Calif., is one of latest to join the stampede to solar, with a recently-installed roof-mounted 354 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system that will produce 600,000 kilowatt hours of power annually.

Del Mar, owned by farmers Jon Maring and Lee Del Don, produces almost 20 different crops in Stanislaus, Fresno, San Joaquin and Merced counties.  Both owners were in their early 20s when they purchased their first plot of land in the Westley, Calif., area and started growing bell peppers in 1983.

Now, they grow apricots, basil, beans, cabbage, canning tomatoes, fresh market tomatoes, cauliflower, cherries, cotton, grapes, herbs, cantaloupes, honeydews, oat hay, olives, parsley, spinach, walnuts, wheat and zucchini — as Maring says, “Everything from A to Z, with a few letters missing in between.”

He and Del Don have vertically integrated their businesses over the years to include packing, cooling, storage, marketing, chemicals, fertilizers, trucking, seed, harvesting, and equipment rental.

Maring joined the solar revolution about a year and a half ago when he installed a system at his home to see if what people were saying was true.

It was, and he decided to incorporate solar in Del Mar’s packing plant.

The move by California agriculture to solar and other renewable energy sources started with the deregulation of the electric utilities in 1998. The California Energy Commission launched a renewable energy program to help increase electricity production statewide.

The California Public Utilities Commission has $3.3 billion available to offer incentives to those who install solar power for commercial operations. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 also offers tax incentives for renewable energy projects, including solar.

As part of this effort, Ingomar Packing Co. at Los Banos, Calif., received discounted interest on bonds to install a $3.5 million solar system. The bonds are only available in economically distressed areas.

Utilities also offer incentives to switch to solar. Factor in depreciation schedules, and solar is getting cheaper all the time.

Solar makes more sense for homes because electricity costs more for residential users than commercial users, according to Maring.

“I had been looking at solar for probably seven or eight years and decided to put it in my home to see if the power savings numbers worked out. Everything happened as I was told it would happen.”

Maring and the company that installed Del Mar’s system, Cenergy Power, put pencils to commercial solar for the farming operation’s packing house, and Maring decided to go with solar for a portion of the electrical needs at the 90,000-square foot Stanislaus County facility.

“With the recent expansion of our cooling capacity and the attractive solar economics offered by Cenergy Power, we knew the time was right to go solar.”

The system cost $1.5 million. The panels installed earlier this fall are guaranteed for 25 years.  Cenergy is responsible for maintenance of the system for 10 years, as part of the installation price.

Fresh market apricots, Roma tomatoes, melons and almonds grown by Del Mar Farms are packed or cooled at the company’s packing house.