You say tomato, I say … massive savings for a thriving agribusiness
In partnership with his sons, Philip and Keith, Jim Atkinson has established one of the largest family run tomato growing operations in Australia on the eastern outskirts of Griffith. The Atkinson family are responsible for supplying Woolworths with the majority of the truss tomato’s in NSW and Victoria.
Intensive, controlled fruit and vegetable production has always been reliant on significant and reliable power generation, be it gas or electric. The Atkinson’s initially used a mix of gas and electricity to run their operation and the electricity bill was running at over $15,000 per month. They knew there was a better way to guarantee power supply, improve efficiencies and lower production costs. And that’s when they turned to Solar Mad.
“We are always looking at ways to grow better tomatoes and run a more effective operation, always looking for an edge” explains Jim Atkinson. “We believe we’ve stayed ahead of the competition by always moving quickly to adopt new production techniques and technology and our move to solar is another example of this."
“We have guaranteed the supply of power, which is critical in a business that runs 365 days a year, while reducing our electricity bill from over $170,000 a year to virtually nothing in the process.”
The Atkinson’s started with a 100 kilowatt system in 2012 and added another 200 panels in 2014 to increase capacity by a further 50 kilowatts. More is planned for the future. Mr Atkinson said it was extremely important to find a local supplier that could meet their needs.
“Some of our plant and equipment has been sourced internationally and from interstate and we found service and support has been problematic. It was very important to us to find a local provider who had the expertise and the capacity to manage this significant project and ensure we get the most out of our investment. “We couldn’t be happier with the result. Solar Mad have been extremely professional and a pleasure to deal with from the very start and remain and important partner for our business.” he said.
Almond orchard saves 75% on energy costs
Gary Carlon is a third generation farmer at Benerembah where he grows a mixture of dry area and irrigated crops. When water allocation allows, he grows rice and cotton on his 5000 acre property however, his primary crop at the moment is 480 acres of almonds. Up until last year Gary was using electricity to power his significant water pumping operation and the other plant and equipment on his property but the costs were becoming prohibitive and he looked for an alternative.
In May 2018, Gary installed a 70kw solar PV system through Solar Mad and the impact has been immediate.
“I’ve only had two bills since we put the system in but we are already seeing savings of around 75% on our electricity costs,” Gary explains.
“The system was designed to support another 20 kW of power and we have enough capacity with our inverters and enough roof space to add another 60 panels. We are so happy with the way things are going we have already started costing this expanded system.”
Gary says that he was contacted by several different solar installers and looked at a few different types of panels. “We seem to get a lot of blow-ins and out-of-towners contacting us about solar,” he said. “I don’t believe these businesses would service us if anything went wrong and I doubt many will even be around in a few years but with Solar Mad I know they have a great track record and their reputation for using quality products is well known. The quote I received from Solar Mad was competitive and the fact that they were local and I knew I could develop a relationship with them was the deciding factor.”
Another interesting aspect of Gary’s pumping infrastructure is that he has installed a Cel-fi mobile phone booster on his farm to ensure he has full visibility and control over his pumps at all times. The monitoring equipment on his pumps can now be accessed and controlled 24/7 through his smart phone. A base unit has been installed in a strategic location in the farm to ensure it received the strongest possible signal from the closest telecommunications tower. A coverage unit has then been connected to each of the three main pumps which now receive a strong and uninterrupted wi-fi signal.
“The use of technology like Cel-fi is helping to make our farming operation even more efficient,” explains Gary. “This is a value-added service from the Solar Mad guys that just confirms I made the right the decision to go with them.”
Super smart drip irrigation that runs on sunshine ... and the smell of an oily rag!
Inefficiently flood irrigated
No electrical power available & infrastructure upgrade unavailable
Client wanted to be carbon neutral with no generator back-up
Solar power is the most viable power source
Existing drip irrigation system requires constant pressure
Mac Burge and his family operate a 18.53 hectare established citrus orchard between Yoogali and Bilbul east of Griffith. The incumbent irrigation system was inefficient and in need of frequent running repairs so Mac decided to install a new drip irrigation system … with a few specific features and an industry first configuration!
Working with the very talented and experienced team at Irrigation Specialists Australia (ISA) we helped design and implement a solar power source to meet these specific requirements. ISA had to ascertain an application rate for crop irrigation using historical evaporation data and the variable crop factor for citrus (8.6mm per hectare per day) to calculate a maximum daily rate 18.53 x Ha (10,000m2) x 8.6 mm/day = 1.53 million litres per day. The maximum daily requirement occurs for approximately 10 days in January so, to ensure the system can exceed the maximum monthly requirement, it was configured to provide an average daily output of 1.5 Mg/L per day. There was careful planning around solar panel sizing and direction to meet lowest radiation levels at the start and end of each day.
ISA designed and deployed an autonomous, drip irrigation system comprising non-pressure compensating emitters. They used sub-main pipework that minimises friction losses while maintaining a flow variation uniformity. The pipe diameter was reduced in stages from the field valve (highest flow) to the flushing point of the submain (lowest flow) so the reduction in flow is reduced along the length of the sub-main due to each attached lateral. Once pressure and flow rates were determined, a pump and solar power system were selected. Using the calculations provided by ISA it was determined we’d require a 26kW system capable of powering the 22kW pump in January. Solar radiation peaks between midday and 2.00pm and the system must be able to power pump at full speed at this time. Solar radiation during the coldest month (June) limits the output to 18kW. The solar system was designed to exceed the maximum evapotranspiration requirements for the orchard throughout the year and may be manually or automatically stopped (e.g. using moisture sensors) to avoid potential over irrigation.
• System automatically adjusts water application to plant water usage
• Capital investment is equivalent or less than to existing drip systems
• No ongoing running costs (energy costs) because solar is extremely cost effective!
• Simplified operation & scheduling of irrigation compared to existing system
The system is working exactly as it was planned and Mac Burge is extremely happy with the result. “It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention and Solar Mad has created an amazing system which will make an incredible difference to my property and could well revolutionise the way drip irrigation is deployed in Riverina and MIA,” he said.