Not only is Ellis growing rice without levees, he’s also growing it without diesel.

“We use electricity to run the pumps. (My cousin), Dwight Ellis, sells electric boxes that use half the usual power.

“An electric motor turns 1750 RPMs – it’s either on or off. What this does, is make it like an engine. You can either speed it up or slow it down, just like a diesel power unit. What’s significant about that is if you can slow it down to 1550, it uses half the electricity it does at 1750.”

Dwight, an industrial electrician before beginning to farm, says until six years ago, he didn’t even know the equipment was available. “Turns out these have been around since 1967 in car plants. You can run them at variable speeds without hurting your motor.

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“They make these in Chicago and Wisconsin and I’ve become an OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer. We distribute and service them. Everything’s new when it leaves here and we have a five-year warrantee.”

He goes into more detail. “Here’s the thing: you can back the (panel) 10 percent off its full speed and save 40 percent on electricity costs. You stop the full-load starting up. There’s a five-second ramp up -- on grain bins, that’s sometimes 45 seconds to a minute.”

A motor pulls 13 times its full-load amps when it starts. “You know how hard it normally is to crank a fan up? Well, if we’re starting, say, three motors on one drive, it’ll take 45 seconds. It just won’t go until it gets the full amps of the motor.”

A fan’s motor is either off or on, says Mike. “You have to have a bigger motor because it takes so much power to start it.

“And the traditional way of thinking is that if you slow an electric motor down it’ll burn up. Well, using this, it won’t burn anything up. And if you can slow things down just a bit, it saves a bunch of electricity.”

The reason these haven’t been used in agriculture is they were so expensive when they came out, says Dwight. “Now, though, with the cost of fuel going up along with everything else, it’s a perfect world for these variable frequency drives.”

The Ellis cousins are the first to work with the equipment on farms in the area. All eleven of their bins – 160,000 bushels worth of storage -- are on the electric drives.

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“When I started this, you could buy a power unit for $12,000,” says Dwight. “Now, they cost $22,000-plus. We can put a three-phase system in on a well for $14,000 to $16,000 – electric motor, the whole nine yards. The difference is how far we have to run our wire.

“It’s a question of efficiency. How can we make things more efficient? When I’m through, there won’t be a diesel power unit on my land.”

Mike points out that one “magic box” is running six grain bins and a well. “One power unit couldn’t do that.”