Nov 30, 2017
Global potato processors wring efficiency from eco-friendly upgrades

European processors have worked to align themselves with the environmental goals passed by their home countries. Their innovative responses to those new rules have led, in some cases, to increased efficiency and greater productivity.

 One of those companies, Netherlands-based Lamb Weston/Meijer, wanted to know if using drip irrigation would be an economically feasible solution to water issues for some of their growers.

Jolanda Soons-Dings, senior manager sustainability, said the company saw the biggest opportunity for drip irrigation in the United Kingdom where water scarcity and stricter legislation, such as water quotas set by local governments, make water a hot commodity. Company trials in the UK (2015) showed, on average, a 5–10 percent increase in yield using the same amount of water. The potatoes, noted Soons-Dings, were also of better, more consistent quality.

A drip irrigation system allows water and nutrients to drip regularly and closely to the plant roots, through a network of irrigation lines. This results in increased water efficiency – up to 30 percent to 50 percent – compared to classic irrigation methods, such as rain guns. It should be noted, though, that the cost of drip irrigation is quite high.

“For drip irrigation, the initial investment is around 50,000 euros (around $59,000) but you can only irrigate 10 hectares (25 acres),” said Soons-Dings. “If there are sufficient natural rains, then the rain gun can be left in the barn with no initial costs, while the drip irrigation system is already in the field paid for.”

The rain gun can be moved around and irrigates approximately 35 hectares (86 acres) per year. The investment costs about 80,000 euros (around $95,000), which is also quite expensive.

In the Netherlands, the rain gun is still more economically attractive in larger growing areas. However, on small and irregular fields where growers have to put a lot of extra labor and time to irrigate efficiently, drip irrigation can add value and be a cost-efficient solution. In 2016, Lamb Weston/Meijer began three trials in Austria. They believe the system offers a compelling business case, especially during hot and dry summers.

So is there a business case for drip irrigation? Soons-Dings says yes, but not everywhere.

“In most areas, the benefits of drip irrigation do not compensate growers for the additional costs yet,” she said. “The break-even point for drip irrigation is a yield increase of over 16 percent.”

Other companies have looked at other ways to improve both their sustainability and their bottom line.

  • Agrarfrost reduces CO2 emissions and switches to green energy
  • Mydibel creates circular economy with “Green Factory”
  • Pizzoli turns potato waste into 100 percent biodegradable plastics

Read more about those efforts in the January issue of Spudman.

-Melanie Epp, contributing writer




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