The name Agro Care already illustrates that we care. Whether this concerns the care we give our employees, who dedicate themselves every day to our company, or the care we lavish on our customers: care is an essential components of the Agro Care corporate philosophy.
Another high-priority care aspect is our concern for our surroundings and the environment. To keep our ecological footprint as small as possible, we continually examine our processes for maximum efficiency and make every effort to reduce our consumption of scarce raw materials to the greatest extent possible.
A great deal of energy is needed to grow tomatoes in a non-tropical climate. This energy is obtained by Agro Care as efficiently as possible through a number of CHP units that are installed at the various sites.
A CHP unit can be compared to a big ship’s engine. One of the biggest differences is that a CHP unit is not fuelled with diesel, but with natural gas. The CHP units convert this natural gas into energy (electricity), CO2 and heat in an enclosed space at the cultivation sites.
The electricity generated by the CHP units is used in the greenhouses to power the growth lamps positioned above the plants, the material-handling equipment that drives through the greenhouses and the packaging machines.
The heat released during the combustion is stored in the form a hot water in huge warm water buffers adjacent to the greenhouses. Once the outside temperature drops, this hot water is used to heat the greenhouses.
The CO2 released is a valuable commodity for Agro Care. After undergoing a purification process, the flue gases produced by the CHP units are pumped into the greenhouses. The CO2 is then converted into oxygen by the plants. Using the CO2 produced by the CHP units allows for more efficient and sustainable cultivation.
Efficient CHP units
Considering that all the elements that are released are used in the combustion of gas by the CHP units (heat, electricity, CO2), the Agro Care CHP units attain an energy efficiency percentage of 99%. In comparison to conventional power plants, in which no use is made of the heat and CO2 (they are cooled down by river water, and the CO2 is released directly into the air), this way of generating energy is much better for the environment. By making use of the CO2 released in this process, Agro Care emits 25,000 metric tons of CO2 less on an annual basis in comparison to a conventional power plant.
All of the heat and CO2 generated by the CHP units is used by Agro Care. The amount of electricity produced is more than what is needed by Agro Care. Part of this is returned to the grid: enough for approximately 16.000 households.
The Wieringermeer Energy Collective was founded together with a number of fellow growers, ‘Agriport A7’, in Wieringermeer in 2006. At that time, the objective was to efficiently set up and operate an energy infrastructure in this area. Several years later, the energy collective started drilling operations for a geothermal heat well, which was taken into operation in 2014. The hot water from this 2.2 kilometre-deep well allows the growers to collectively save 20 million m3 of natural gas a year. For Agro Care, this comes down to a savings of 2.3 million m3 of natural gas per year, on average.
Agro Care has invested heavily in screening systems to reduce its visibility for the surrounding area in the evening and at night. Thanks to the growing lights suspended above the plants, the greenhouse horticulture sites emit quite a bit of light. This light is not permitted to cause a nuisance to the environment and the surroundings. Use can be made of screening installations to combat this. Approximately 98% of the light can be screened off in this way. Agro Care was the first tomato grower to start screening off the light emitted by its greenhouses.
To protect the tomato plants from pests and diseases, Agro Care makes use of primarily biological crop protection agents.
A continuous search for undesirable insects allows fast and efficient action to be taken as soon as these have been detected. Once a threatening intruder has been discovered useful insects are let loose on the spot to combat these unwanted insects.
However, if in a worst case scenario a plague cannot be combated with biological resources, use can be made of traditional yet mild crop protection agents. These will only be applied locally, of course. After all, an uncontrollable plague in a greenhouse could have a catastrophic impact on the entire crop. Besides the economic consequences, having to destroy a crop is also a senseless waste of scarce energy resources.
The cultivation of tomatoes requires lots of water as well as nutrients. Considering that Agro Care tomatoes are all gown on rockwool mats, efficient use can be made of these elements.
The rockwool mats are arranged in long gutters throughout the greenhouse. Water and nutrients are conveyed to the plants through tiny tubes with a drip system that are inserted into the plants’ root system. The plant only absorbs as much water and nutrients as it needs, while the excess is drained into the gutter and returned to the technical area of the greenhouse, where the water is purified so that it can be reused. Thanks to this recirculation system, no water or nutrients disappear into the soil.
The water is reused for the crop and the rain water collected from the greenhouse roofs is collected in big cisterns next to the greenhouse horticulture sites.
Through this cultivation method, Agro Care needs only four litres of water to grow one kilogram of tomatoes. This is very little in comparison to the 60 litres of water generally used to grow the same quantity of tomatoes in the open field in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea.