Fourth-generation California farmer Steve Gill is one of many innovators in western agriculture whose creative, forward-thinking mind improves farm efficiency and sustainability.

Brothers Steve and David Gill co-own Gills Onions LLC based in Oxnard. The farming side of the 17,000-acre operation includes vegetable production in Ventura, Monterey, Fresno, and Imperial counties.

Of the total acreage, red, yellow, and sweet onions are grown on about 3,000 acres which makes Gills Onions one of the largest onion growers in the U.S.

The company’s 14-acre fresh cut onion processing facility in Oxnard cuts, slices, and dices about 70,000 tons of onions annually; one of the largest operations worldwide.

This fall, Steve Gill – the farmer - admitted he misses the days of getting his hands dirty in the soil. Yet Gill – the innovator - is excited to undertake new challenges and hand-craft solutions to improve the company’s production efficiency while achieving improved sustainability.

“I enjoy a good challenge,” Gill said with a smile.

Energy is a major component of input costs and creating solutions to maximize energy use are crucial to Gills Onions’ future.

This summer, the Gill family installed the world’s largest vanadium flow battery which stores electricity. The tennis court-sized battery, located adjacent to the onion processing plant, was developed by Prudent Energy.

Here is how it works. Gills Onions draws electricity off the local power grid at night when electricity from Southern California Edison is at off-peak (lower) pricing - about 9 cents per kilowatt hour. The electricity is stored in the flow battery.

The 24-hour-a-day processing plant draws electricity as needed from the battery versus buying more expensive electricity at on-peak daytime prices, which Gill estimates at about 20-cents plus per kilowatt hour.

Prudent’s vanadium battery is unlike batteries of the past. For example, older cell phone batteries lost charging ability and developed a memory which prevented a full charge. The vanadium battery allows the 100 percent discharge of electricity for almost an unlimited number of times without damage.