Energy audit saves tomato grower $100,000 in gas

Better quality crops, 30% lower gas use and better working conditions are just the beginning after energy upgrades at this hydroponic farm.

Tatura Fresh is a family-owned business growing truss tomatoes across two sites in the Goulburn Valley.

The farms use climate-controlled glasshouses to maximise their crops. This type of hydroponic farming can be a very sustainable way to grow fruit and vegetables. But over the past five years, the business has seen a big jump in production costs.

“Labour costs have risen by just under $5 an hour, and gas and electricity prices have more than doubled. At the same time, pricing for our products has gone down,” explained Jon Murphy, General Manager at the two farms.

“One of the obvious areas where we knew we could find savings was the energy used on the farms.” With this in mind, they brought in an energy auditor to help them find cost savings.

Shade and thermal screens save money and increase yield and quality

The auditor recommended investing in energy saving technology and making some of their equipment that used a large amount of energy, like cool rooms, more energy efficient.

“The audit clearly showed us how we would benefit financially and environmentally from making these changes,” added Jon.

Jon first installed automated shade and thermal screens at their 2.5-hectare glasshouse on the Tatura site.

“Just this change alone reduced our gas use in this glasshouse by 30%, which equates to about $100,000 in savings each year. We’ll be able to pay back the cost of the install within 3 to 4 years.”

“The screen also protects the plants in extreme weather, which has increased the quality and yield of our tomatoes by 5%.”

The new automated shade and thermal screens help the business by:

  • diffusing light to the crops to maximise light penetration
  • trapping heat in the glasshouse, which reduces the need for heating
  • giving more control over climate conditions using less energy
  • reducing condensation on the crops
  • improving the climate for workers.

“Basically, it’s been good for our bottom line, our tomatoes and our staff.”

More energy upgrades in the pipeline

Inspired by the savings and increased yield, Jon embarked on several other energy upgrades, including:

  • installation of a 400kW solar PV system
  • installation of another 6.5-hectares of energy screens
  • the upgrade of cool room units to make them more energy efficient.

Once these changes are in place across the entire nine hectares of the Tatura site, they anticipate estimated savings of 38,000GJ of gas and 469,000kWh of electricity each year.

At current energy prices, that’s equivalent to a huge yearly energy saving of $418,000 on gas and $48,000 on electricity (taking into account 55% peak and 45% off-peak electricity usage).

Compelled to become a more sustainable business

“We are always looking for ways to be more sustainable,” explained Jon. “We want to grow a product that consumers can feel good about – and which also tastes great.”

With all these upgrades, we are creating a more sustainable and energy-efficient business with lower production costs and a better carbon footprint.

– Jon Murphy, General Manager, Tatura Fresh

Jon plans to invest in this technology across the whole Tatura site and, potentially, at the Mansfield farm as well – another 5.5 hectares of savings!

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