As Canadian growers scout Europe for a competitive edge, these hubs have grown immeasurably as connectors to horticultural technology. John and Cristina Hambly, owners of Gwillimdale Farms, Bradford, Ontario and their sales and plant operations manager, Quinton Woods, have travelled to Europe six times since 2011 to settle on new storage equipment.

These trade shows were the first window to several cooling systems, before travelling into the countryside to see storage facilities. Their quest took them to the northern town of Hardifort, France, not far from the Belgian border. That’s where Klim’Top Controls has its headquarters for harvesting and post-harvest equipment for box and bulk storage. The promotional literature promising improved pack-outs of produce has proven to be very accurate, says Woods.

“We had the first unit in North America in 2018 for carrots and potatoes,” says Woods. “There’s always some skepticism in believing the sales pitch, but after one year of experience, we can say that our potatoes came out with whiter colours in the spring of 2019. Packouts were increased by 15 per cent. We also saved tons of money in electricity costs. We are at 35 to 40 per cent of the electricity costs paid the year before.”

Those savings have spurred the second phase of storage facilities, 42,000 square feet, to be constructed in time for onion and carrot harvest in September 2019. When complete, the side-by-side storages will hold 18,000 pallet boxes in a total of 87,000 square feet. The expectation is to cure onions faster and to store them longer into the spring season. The ability to store into June – and even July — can reap dividends when selling to buyers who are short of local product before transitioning into new crop.

How do Klim’Tops Controls work?

In traditional storages, air is pushed through vegetable boxes. Condensors are on the ceilings. Air takes the path of least resistance, so it’s very hard – and expensive — to push cold air to the bottom of the pile to a set point for overwinter storage.

The Klim’Tops Controls system is built on the concept of pulling air through the pile. As Eric Clopaert, sales representative for Klim’Tops Controls explains, the system can pull in fresh cold air in the wintertime – free cooling – while maintaining a constant humidity rate in the storage. The system is fitted with the latest generation of electrically commutated motors (EC), making it possible to select different ways to pull down the temperature. The system contains hydrofluoro-olefin (HFO) fluid, a more environmentally friendly alternative that has low global warming potential.

One of the features is that the energy-saving option takes into account different electricity rates within the day and operates at the most efficient time.  An Internet connection with the Klimweb system means that the owners can check on real-time temperatures and electricity consumption from any computer or smartphone.

European-style storage boxes will be more efficient 

In other storage efficiencies, Quinton says that “Euro” bins will be used for the first time this fall to minimize movement of produce. Made of both hardwood and softwood, these bins weigh less than conventional bins, but have twice the holding capacity at 1.6 metres x 1.2 metres x 1.2 metres.

“With existing boxes, we staple a sticker to every box for traceability, but with Interagra boxes, we can use chalk paint on the designated, non-metal chalkboard,” says Woods. “Again, we evaluated bins of all sizes at various shows in Europe and decided on this Polish company.

According to the company’s website (www.interagra.com), the boxes are expected to have a lifespan of 15 years or more.

As growers continue to invest in environmentally-friendly cooling systems, they also gain other rewards in paying less on electricity bills, and hence less carbon tax. Gwillimdale Farms is a timely example of how Ontario growers are paying carbon tax while also shouldering the load of securing financing for new technology.