IT takes power to grow vegetables, fruits and nuts. And that takes money, something farmers cannot afford to flitter away.
The horticulture industry though has taken a front foot approach to dealing with energy costs.
Various projects throughout different sectors of the industry are tackling the issue of power in order to lower costs and improve efficiency for growers.
The apple and pear industry boasted one of the leading examples of industry optimisation with its "Watts in Your Business" program in 2014.
Conducted by Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL), in conjunction with Summerfruit Australia Limited and Cherry Growers Australia Inc, was funded under the Australian Government’s Energy Efficiency Information Grants program.
The program audited 30 orchards and packing sheds across Australia to find ways business owners could save energy and cut costs.
KMH Environmental conducted the audits and found that, on average, businesses could save $16,300 per year from cost effective upgrades with a payback period of six years or less.
The average saving after implementing the cost effective upgrades was 13 per cent.
Packing sheds were one of the main focuses to saving energy with options ranging from sealing air compressor leaks, to installing solar panels on irrigation shed roofs and connecting voltage power optimisation units to electricity supplies.
Growers were encouraged to discuss their tariffs with their electricity providers to try and get the best deal possible.
Audits key to energy changes
THE Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has also assisted with energy savings in the horticulture sector through its Energy Savers program.
Like the apple and pear program, this is based on farm energy audits.
Several successful case studies have been released, including one based on a 100 hectare citrus farm in the Mundubbera area with water sourced for irrigation from the underground aquifer.
The farm's orchards were irrigated using sprinklers beside each tree and the areas were divided into zones with water supply controlled by an irrigation management system which could be adjusted according to the season and weather conditions.
Electricity consumption on-site was driven mainly by the irrigation pumping, packaging operations as well as refrigeration cold rooms, which were used during April to October.
An energy audit of the site evaluated the installation of variable speed controls and the installation of a solar photovoltaic (PV) system.
The audit included recommendations to install variable speed drives ( VSD) on the two 45kW irrigation pumps, which were run with the discharge throttled to provide the correct pressure to the irrigation sprinklers.
Another initiative recommended was to install a 30kW solar PV system on the packing shed to offset a large amount of the site’s energy usage during the day and to review the tariff pricing structure for the pump electricity accounts to realise savings of more than $1900 per annum.
The owner subsequently implemented the VSDs on the two bore pumps and replaced high bay lighting and fluorescent tubes in the packing shed with new energy efficient LEDs.
The owner also installed an 82.8kW solar PV system on the packing shed reducing the number of points of supply to maximise the benefit received from electricity generated.
Implementation of energy-saving initiatives resulted in energy consumption avoidance of more than 170MWh between the baseline season of October 2013-June 2014 and the reporting season of October 2014-June 2015.
Benefits clear as glass
THE work into energy efficiency for horticulture production extends into the laboratory. Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) has supported Swinburne University of Technology into developing the glass which adjust in colour during different times of the day with an aim of improving energy use in greenhouses.
The technology utilises semi-transparent solar-glass that also helps create the optimal climate for plants.
According to HIA chief executive, John Lloyd, the vegetable industry found glass-based protected cropping an attractive option as it allowed greater control within an enclosed environment, however, energy costs were a disincentive.
"What this project aims to do is find a solution to some of those issues by looking into the development of a product which has the potential to bring cost savings and ultimately increase the viability of protected cropping,” Mr Lloyd said.
If the glass is deemed viable for industry use, the second phase of the project will involve trialling the most cost-effective group of solutions, with the potential to trial the technology on-farm at various commercial sites in Victoria.
Markets harvest the sun
WHILE not on-farm, one of the more recent energy efficiency developments within the horticulture supply chain came from the Sydney Markets.
Last month, the business unveiled its purpose-built solar car park.
The $14 million car park extension at Flemington’s Sydney Markets handles 640kW and will save 936 tonnes of carbon each year, or the equivalent of taking 522 small cars off the road annually.
Along with the other two solar systems on site, it brings Sydney Markets’ total renewable energy capacity to about 900kW.
The customised solar installation will also attract Large Scale Generation Credits (LGCs), meaning Sydney Markets can trade renewable electricity generated above the power station baseline to likeminded companies.