The large solar project that provides Sundrop Farms Australia with energy and fresh water is nominated for the Clean Energy Council’s 2018 Innovation Award. The Danish renewable energy specialist, Aalborg CSP, has delivered the energy system to the 200,000 m2 greenhouses of Sundrop Farms in 2017.
The solar energy project is among the top four finalists. The jury sees this pioneering installation in combination with greenhouses in Port Augusta as a leading example of a successful deployment of sustainable energy technologies in Australia.
Clear demonstration project
The Clean Energy Council Awards nominates the pioneering solar energy project in the category ‘Innovation Award’, because it gives a clear demonstration of what is possible.
This installation with concentrated solar technology (CSP) is the first in Australia and worldwide to support greenhouse horticulture on a commercial scale.
Sundrop Farms produces annually more than 17,000 tons of tomatoes in 200,000 m2 greenhouses located in a remote area. With this yield the company accounts for about 15% of the entire tomato market in Australia.
Multiple energy flows
The unique thing about this project is that the installation with solar energy produces electricity, heat and fresh water. In general, CSP plants at other sites in the world only produce electricity while heat is discharged as waste. An Integrated Energy System has been created at this location with a thermal efficiency of up to 95% that produces multiple energy flows.
The installation consists of more than 23,000 heliostats (computer-controlled mirrors) that bundle the sun’s rays in the Australian desert and reflect them towards the top of a 127 meters high solar tower. The concentration of solar energy produces high temperatures that Sundrop Farms then uses to heat the greenhouses in the winter and on cold summer nights, but also to provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5 km from the site) and to periodically run a steam turbine to produce electricity.
A trial with hybrid lighting (SON-T + LED) at Dutch tomato nursery Gebroeders Koot has yielded good results. The LED lamp used in the trial, which was developed on British soil with Dutch input, offers several advantages. One stand-out benefit is its clever design which makes it easy to integrate into existing SON-T installations.
Yields up by more than nine percent after seven months (weeks 48-26). That was the auspicious outcome of a greenhouse trial at Prominent growers Gebroeders Koot in Poeldijk, the Netherlands, where a tomato crop grown under 150 μmol/m2/sec SON-T grow light was compared with an identical crop supplemented with 58 μmol deep red with a little blue LED light. Geert Koot, who had had no previous experience in growing under grow light, was very impressed. “I hadn’t expected the higher light level to make such a difference,” he says. “That will appeal to a lot of growers. The same goes for the lamp itself, which has a surprisingly simple design. It’s fully interchangeable with SON-T, so it fits seamlessly into an existing system.”
“A lot of thought has gone into the functional design,” cultivation specialist Maarten Klein adds. He and his assistant, Tim Valstar, oversaw the trial, which was run on behalf of the British LED manufacturer Plessey. Klein, who has had a lot of experience with grow light, developed this lamp in collaboration with the technology company.
“Most LED systems are difficult if not impossible to integrate into existing lighting installations,” Klein continues. “Growers looking to switch to hybrid lighting currently have to install a whole new system alongside their existing one, often with extra C profiles. That pushes up the cost and results in more light interception, which causes problems all year round. Plessey Semiconductors in Plymouth wanted to eliminate these problems.”
To test the practical value of the lamp in the greenhouse setting, Klein approached several Dutch nurseries. In addition to Gebroeders Koot, trial setups were installed at nearby alstroemeria and gerbera growers and a pot plant nursery.
Although Gebroeders Koot were not growing tomatoes under artificial lighting, they did have a SON-T system in place in a section that had previously been let to another grower. These 1000W lamps supplied 151 μmol/m2/s extra grow light and, of course, the usual radiated heat. LED lamps were added in one bay, ramping up the artificial light level to 209 μmol.
Tim Valstar assisted with the trial and, together with Geert Koot, took measurements in the trial and reference sections. All the relevant crop and fruit features of the variety grown, Brioso, were recorded, varying from growth rate and stem thickness to leaf size, leaf colour, fruit weight and Brix value.
The plants arrived in the greenhouse in week 46. “That’s later than the usual for an artificially lit Brioso crop – they would usually go in in mid-October – but the lighting period was long enough to get a reliable impression of any differences,” Koot says. “The plants developed well in both light environments. But the plants under the higher light level were that little bit stronger with slightly thicker stems and more dark green leaves.”
Due to the extra vigour, the plants under the hybrid lighting regime held the first trusses for longer and they were harvested a few days later than those in the reference sections. The higher yield potential quickly expressed itself in a higher average fruit weight. To maintain the desired fineness, one fruit more was kept on the truss (11 instead of 10) from the tenth truss onwards, without the plants forfeiting vigour.
Valstar: “After week 26 we stopped taking measurements and were able to take stock.” The harvest under the hybrid lighting regime was 38.32 kg per m2 compared with 35.04 kg under SON-T. That represents an increase in yield of 9.35%. The average fruit weight was also slightly higher than under SON-T, at 39.2 grams compared with 38.8 grams.
The attractive increase in yield can’t be ascribed solely to the higher light levels in the periods when both systems were in use. The SON-T system was switched off and the CHP unit shut down for maintenance at the beginning of week 19, whereas the LED system was used from 4 am to 7 am for a further three weeks.
“The option to only use the LED lamps either end of the lighting season would be an extra benefit,” Klein says. “Those are often the times when you don’t need the radiated heat produced by the SON-T lamps. LEDs have virtually no impact on the climate. You can always switch them on if you need more grow light. And because they are much more energy-efficient than SON-T lamps, you also have more flexibility when it comes to deciding whether to generate the energy yourself with CHP.”
375 and 600W
Klein is keen to point out that the prototype trialled at Gebroeders Koot was developed exclusively for research purposes. But the lamp has since undergone further development and a commercial 375W version was launched at IPM 2017. All the LEDs are now in one bay and the fitting, which has integrated cooling ribs, can be attached directly to the trellis.
The lamp is called Hyperion 1000 because it has a photon flux of 1000 μmol/s. “Because of the higher uptake of deep red light, it’s the equivalent of a 600W SON-T lamp but it uses 40 percent less electricity,” the cultivation specialist says. “The producer has also recently brought out a more powerful 600W version which is the equivalent of a 1000W SON-T lamp.”
Ten years ago
There is a lot of added value in the new lamp, Koot believes. “It’s efficient, it has a broad spectrum, and its clever design makes it easy to incorporate into an existing system. That will appeal to a lot of growers. I’m also quite impressed. But because of my age and the fact that I have no successor in place, I have decided not to invest in any more grow lights now. If this trial had taken place ten years ago, I would almost certainly have gone for them. But we very much enjoyed taking part in the trial.”
A new type of LED lamp produced in the UK is achieving interesting results. The clever design makes the lamp particularly attractive. It can be attached to the trellis without the use of C profiles and can be integrated into existing 600W SON-T systems with standard connectors. A more powerful version equivalent to a 1000W SON-T lamp was brought out earlier this year.
The Plantalyzer is a unique tool for accurately estimating vine tomato crops. It counts the number of vine tomatoes on the plant in the greenhouse and provides reliable information for an accurate estimate of the harvest.
The system was developed in close collaboration with Wageningen University & Research. It uses special cameras to measure the bottom two to three leaf-free trusses. The system maps the trusses per stem, the number of fruits per truss and the colour of each fruit. The Plantalyzer thus provides insight into numbers and colour stages. Linking this information to practical greenhouse data produces an accurate estimate of the harvest.
The tool is able to measure large areas of tomatoes, counting both quantity and maturity. The system does that tirelessly every day, always in exactly the same way, and works fully automatically. www.hortikey.com
Stand number: 11.115
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Hyderabad have succeeded in keeping tomatoes fresh for 30 days using special food packaging material. A team of two members led by Dr Mudrika Khandelwal developed the food packaging material, which is made from bacterial cellulose impregnated with silver nano particles.
The bacterial cellulose is prepared using Gluconacetobacter xylinus bacteria in order to produce semi-crystalline cellulose nano fibres from a standard substance that contained glucose. “We can use every type of fruit juice that is rich in sugar to produce bacterial cellulose”, explains Dr Khandelwal.
Smaller is better
The nano-sized pores in the bacterial cellulosic matrix restrict the growth of nanoparticles, thus controlling their growth. Dr Khandelwal: “We discovered that if the silver nanoparticles are smaller the antimicrobial activity will be greater.”
To measure the exact antibacterial activity of the bacterial cellulose the material was first tested on isolated bacteria and fungi that occur on rotting tomatoes. The test showed that the bacterial cellulose killed 99% of the bacteria up to 72 hours after the test was initiated. What’s even more remarkable in this experiment is that the food packaging material also demonstrated fungus-combating activity.
Retarding the aging process
Another test revealed that tomatoes wrapped in the bacterial cellulose packaging material remained fresh for up to 30 days when stored at room temperature. Even after 30 days, the tomatoes demonstrated neither wrinkles nor microbial spoilage. Researcher Shivakalyani Adepu indicated that this is because, in addition to the antimicrobial activity, the composite also facilitates a favourable exchange of gases and moisture. “The material ensures that the fruit ages more slowly.”
The research team aims to test the food packaging material on exotic fruit to see if the material will also keep this fruit for a longer period of time. Dr Khandelwal says that she would also like to test the same principle on medical products. “The composite can be used as an antimicrobial lining in sanitary napkins and disposable clothing and covering in hospitals.”
More than ten years ago the Austrian horticultural families Kainz and Mayer decided to join forces and set up a new business. Their aim was to professionalise, improve efficiency and prepare their companies for the future. And they did just that: today Kainz & Mayer Marchfeldtomaten is among the leading Austrian tomato producers. The entrepreneurs are still not satisfied, however: they are bursting with ideas and continuously striving for better things.
The company is located in the Marchfeld, the main Austrian lowland, in the north east of the country. The business is twenty kilometres away from both Vienna and the Slovak capital Bratislava. “This was an important reason for choosing this location,” explains 32-year old Peter Kainz, one of the business’s entrepreneurs. “A whopping three million people live within a fifty-kilometre radius of our business. This is a great advantage, as all our products are sold in the region.”
Advantages of synergy
The Kainz and Mayer families originate from Vienna, where they ran family horticultural businesses for four generations. “Together, the two companies boasted 2 hectares in total, which was fairly small scale. We used to grow many types of vegetables there, in greenhouses, plastic tunnels and outdoors. Our professionality and efficiency were far from ideal due to the small scale of our companies,” Kainz explains.
Because both families understood that professionalisation and specialisation were a must for survival in the long term, they decided to join forces. “This was reinforced by the fact that vegetable prices had been showing a downward trend since 1995, when Austria joined the EU and it became easier to import products from other EU countries. By moving forward together, we hoped to upscale and benefit from the advantages of synergy, as we would only need to invest once in machines, warehouses, and so on.”
The families were no strangers to each other: Johann Kainz Senior is the brother of Waltraud Mayer. “We had been working together for many years, so we knew where we stood with each other.”
No rushing into things
Because both locations in Vienna lacked expansion opportunities, the families started looking for a new site to achieve their ambitions. They certainly didn’t rush into it. “We hired Marc Vergelt and Geert-Willem van de Schoot from a Dutch consulting firm to guide us through the process of finding a new location, building a new business and setting up a new organisation,” says Peter Kainz. “In addition, my cousin Waltraud Mayer and I joined a tomato nursery in Moerkapelle in the Netherlands for a year in order to gain experience in the daily running of a modern greenhouse business. We had decided fairly early on that we wanted to start growing tomatoes: they are not an easy vegetable to grow, which is why they are not for everyone. Because there are a lot of people in our business, it was easy to collect the necessary know-how.”
In 2007, the families eventually bought a 20 ha parcel together, where 6 ha of greenhouses were set up initially. They added 3 ha in 2011 and another 4 ha of greenhouses in 2016, bringing the total acreage to 13 ha. “We chose a standard six-metre high Venlo greenhouse with four-metre covers and hired the greenhouse construction company Gakon to build it. Because everything was so new to us anyway, we didn’t want to take any risks in this respect.”
A total of eight partners are involved in the business: Johann and Anna Kainz and their sons Peter and Johann, and Waltraud Mayer with her daughter Waltraud and son Thomas. “The management team consists of Thomas Mayer, Waltraud Kasses-Mayer, my brother Johann Kainz and myself”, says Peter Kainz. “In practice, the business is mainly run by Thomas and yours truly. Thomas is responsible for cultivation, and I handle sales, personnel and all organisational matters. Furthermore, my brother Johann is responsible for the financial administration and my cousin Waltraud carries out a variety of administrative tasks. Our parents also still help out, but less intensively.”
The business grows medium vine tomatoes (Cappricia and Bonaparte varieties) and various types of cocktail and cherry tomatoes. Harvesting takes place from March until early December. “When it comes to growing methods and technical equipment, our business can be compared with modern Dutch companies,” Peter Kainz says. “We grow on stone wool, for instance, work with gutters, and recycle all our water. We often work with organic pest controls and try to minimise the use of pesticides as much as possible.”
The tomatoes are distributed to supermarkets in a radius of up to 300 kilometres around the business, via the Austrian growers’ association Gemüse Erzeuger Organisation Ost Österreich. “We deliver to REWE, Spar and Hofer, for instance. In recent years demand has been on the rise because Austrians, and also Slovaks, are increasingly opting for products from their own region. They are also prepared to pay more for them. This is why we have had some very good years recently, from an economic perspective. We have also invested a lot in business process optimisation, for instance with regard to energy management.”
The growers have the greenhouse cleaned by the spraying company Marcel Veenman every year so that they can make optimum use of the available light and save energy. Kainz again: “Also, we replace the screen fabric regularly and we use anti-condensation foil when we plant in December. There are lots of sustainable energy facilities such as wind turbines nearby. We help compensate for fluctuations in the electricity supply in the balancing markets.”
Another important success factor is that the business is mainly focused on varieties with great flavour. “We are continuously testing new varieties for our business, which we review on taste as well as shelf life and production. Through social media we also try to maintain a feel for what consumers want, and to respond adequately.”
Flexibility and quality
Although the entrepreneurs are satisfied with how the business is running, they are continuously on the lookout for new possibilities. “Stagnation is decline, after all,” Kainz emphasises. “The biggest challenge for the future is to be as flexible as possible in terms of delivery, varieties, packaging, and so on. Because our customers are increasingly demanding flexibility, we started packing our tomatoes ourselves last year; previously, this was done by the growers’ organisation. But because we now own a sorting and packing line ourselves, we can respond better and more quickly to our customers’ wishes.” The Dutch firm Taks Tuinbouwtechniek supplied the sorting and packing line for vine and cocktail tomatoes. The machines for weighing and packing the small packs come from Topcontrol and Ulma Packaging.
To offer more flexibility, both families are also looking at investing in assimilation lighting, as this would enable them to deliver year-round. “We have noticed significant demand for local tomatoes during the winter months as well.”
In addition the partners want to focus on further quality improvement in the coming years. Among other things, this requires a significant investment in training employees. “We have 70 permanent employees, and up to 140 in the summer. We regularly organise meetings on specific subjects for our employees: pests and diseases, techniques, and so on. By lifting their knowledge to a higher level, we want to further improve our quality. Quality is our guiding principle in everything we do. And in this respect, we always aim to set the bar a little higher.”
This doesn’t conclude the list of future plans, however. Indeed, last year the business bought another fifteen acres of land earmarked for a further extension – and not necessarily in tomatoes. “We are also exploring market possibilities for other crops, including lettuce and berries, and even fish farming is an option. One advantage of working like this is risk spreading. In short, there is still quite a lot in the pipeline.”
In 2004 two families, who each ran a small-scale business in Vienna, decided to set up a new, more professional horticultural business together. They founded Kainz & Mayer Marchfeldtomaten, a 13 ha nursery that grows vine, cocktail and cherry tomatoes. They supply local supermarkets. The entrepreneurs are entirely focused on quality and are also continuing to develop their business. Further growth is on the cards for the coming years and, in addition, the Austrians are exploring cultivating a second product.