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Food and beverage stories

Booming berry businesses swing to solar

Edition 164 Island Berries' Managing Director, Andre Richardson, gives Janell Cartledge a hand in the company's new plant. Image courtesy of The Mercury

Processor Island Berries and grower Westerway Raspberry Farm have both commissioned cutting-edge solar-powered technology to enhance their operations.

Island Berries, which uses 56 tonnes of Tasmanian fruit in 50 different products, commissioned a solar-powered production plant at its new Cambridge headquarters in August.

Managing Director, Andre Richardson, said the new plant would enable his business to more than double production over the next 12 months.

The company, which started with a single product 18 years ago, now has 35 staff.

Buying directly from local growers, Island Berries uses quality fruit to manufacture gourmet desserts, fruit drinks, jams, chutneys, syrups and fruit pastes.

“Our focus is quality Tasmanian produce because it’s the best,” Mr Richardson told The Mercury.

“We have the raw materials here to produce products equal to, and better than, our mainland counterparts.

“We are now exporting most of our product range interstate.”

Almost $100,000 from the State Government’s Innovation and Investment Fund helped finance the new plant that was opened by the Governor, Kate Warner.

Berry producer Westerway Raspberry Farm has long regarded freezing as a key to market expansion, but has been deterred by prospective energy costs.

Now Westerway has commissioned a 50kW solar system to offset the costs of operating its irrigation pumps and a new 288cu m blast freezer.

The project is unique in Australia and the Coles supermarket chain places so much value on it that it has provided Westerway with a $260,000 grant.

Powercom has installed nearly 200 panels in two 50m lines in a paddock between the farm’s pump and its new freezer.

Westerway spokesperson Richard Clark said the freezer had revolutionised the farm’s operations.

“We need to take the fruit from the field and freeze it at its peak quality and it is not viable to slowly freeze warm fruit from the field where summer temperatures can often exceed 30 C,” Mr Clark said.

“The system designed by Powercom is extremely efficient and uses the solar energy for the freezer when it is needed and then switches over to irrigation when the freezer is not in use.

“The idea was to capture as much energy on the farm as we needed and use it through December, January and February, when most of our activities are in high gear.

“The 2014-15 season was a good one for us especially as there was a growing demand, especially from high-end consumers, for Australian-grown frozen berries.

“This investment has revolutionised our farm as the solar is making the freezer more affordable to operate.

“As well as the financial benefits of using less energy, we are very happy to now have a smaller environmental footprint.”

The flourishing berry business, producing mainly raspberries and black currants, was established 40 years ago by the Clark family on 60ha of fertile river flats on the Tyenna River.

Coles’ Managing Director, John Durkan, made a rare visit to Tasmania in early September to announce his company’s involvement.

Meanwhile, major berry grower, the Costa Group, has provided Agricultural Science scholarships at the University of Tasmania for four under-graduates and four honours students.

The scholarship winners are all from Tasmania’s north-west region where Costa is spending $6 million to expand production of raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.

2 September 2015, Edition 164

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