The whole team at the ICA group have had a very busy time in the lead up to the current harvest; last month you will have read about the extensive new pre-grading and storage facilities completed for the A C Goatham & Son enterprise. Running in parallel to that project were a number of other installations and extensions for other growers across the region. Delivering the next stage of investment in improving quality, season length and facilities for staff, the ICA group are embedded in the future development and success of prominent growers throughout the fruit industry.

As always, energy consumption has to be a big part of the refrigeration designer’s job, clearly it is their responsibility to ensure the systems designed and installed use the least energy, while efficiently providing the best refrigeration extraction of heat from produce stored within store. The ICA group have been working extensively with DX central plant which have low profile “Blow Through” type coolers with low energy fans and extended surface evaporator coil. Reports this season from many growers have confirmed the efficiency of the systems and the speed at which they have removed field heat. The coolers are fitted with the latest electronic expansion valves and superheat controllers, which ensure the maximum output is achieved from the coil; evaporator superheat settings are maintained by the EEVs, minimising the consumption of energy.

Many growers are now familiar with the compressor packs which are fully weather proof and silenced, housing multiple Bitzer compressors with variable speed drive units, and the standard condenser fans are “EC Fans” on the air cooled condensers. This combination allows the ICA team to design for maximum ambient temperature operation without overstressing the plant. Typically the design ambient temperature is +32°C which takes account of those very hot summer days and sometimes at harvest time too! The condensing temperature of the ICA system allows selection of the condenser at +43°C.

The combination of this design using EEVs and EC Fans will give power savings annually of around 25-30%. The use of electronic expansion valves is usually down to the installer’s ability and confidence in using and servicing electronics, and many refrigeration companies do not have the necessary skills and shy away from their use; this is also down to their customers not realising they have to pay excessive energy costs! The cost of incorporating these systems has a relatively short payback period when compared to the power draw of 10 year old systems and the cost of renting storage.

AC Hulme & Sons have used the ICA group this summer for phase 2 of the storage and packing development project at Hoaden Court farm near Ash. Two years ago we reported on the extensive new storage block of six CA and four air stores which provided 7,500 bins of long-term storage. At the time an external lean to was given a poured floor but designated as a bin storage area, ready for phase two. In 2015 the ICA group converted two of the air stores to CA and also put additional chilled storage capacity into a second central corridor within the main block of stores to provide additional holding capacity for short term fruit and juice. This summer the ICA team have been back at Hoaden installing a 1995 bin (665t as 4 x 406 bins and 1 x 371 bins) capacity storage extension. Tom Hulme has also commissioned SafePod systems in three of the stores as a first step in investigating the benefits to his enterprise of Dynamic Controlled Atmosphere (DCA) storage. This further 2016 development is ahead of AC Hulme & Sons’ original projections, with the requirement for 2000 bins of off-farm storage in the 15/16 season pushing the business to increase its on farm storage capacity quicker than originally anticipated. The rationale for using the SafePod system was simple for this part of the investment:

  1. Growers must explore all methods to extend the retail window

  2. Growers must invest to improve the quality of fruit through storage – there being little point in investing in varieties that have the potential to store long term without the technology to get them there in peak condition.

Tom felt that now was the time to do all he could to improve his ability to keep his fruit for longer and in better condition, and having the same technology across all stores led him to ICA group’s SafePod DCA system. On farm storage is also something of a ‘no brainer’ as far as he is concerned. Putting aside the economic and environmental benefits of removing multiple transport movements, the ability to control costs, quality and be able to take direct management of your crop is imperative.

The Hulme family have worked with ICA for a long time now, they know the team, and they trust their judgement, knowing that they can be relied on if there is a problem. It’s a healthy business relationship which is benefitting both firms.

ICA have also been working with the Rumwood Green team to deliver an extensive new packhouse, storage, despatch areas and office units. Sean Charlton has commissioned ICA to deliver a combined top and soft fruit facility which includes an extensive office suite for his Total Berry partners. All areas have been installed with the latest movement responsive LED systems with the packhouse ventilated by a combination of a conventional DX system coupled with a passive fresh air flow for additional worker comfort.

The bespoke suite of offices have been equipped with the latest in air conditioning from Toshiba. The VRF 3 pipe (Variable Refrigerant Flow) system allows for greater flexibility in the placement of vents, removing the uneven pattern of airflow of old – no more freezing cold necks or dry eyes! The use of a three pipe system allows for simultaneous heating and cooling in the system, meaning a meeting room could be in cooling mode at the same time as units in the open area could be heating. Exacting temperature control in all areas means that different zones can meet the precise needs of the team using the office suite. The Total Berry suite also benefits from fresh air supplied via a number of heat reclaim ventilation units serving all areas of the offices.

The ICA Group (and their clients) are enjoying the partnership with Toshiba as the extended warranty and excellent service matches the ICA commitment to an ongoing relationship with customers.

The new facility also contains a conveyor line blast chiller unit, designed to chill 18 pallets of soft fruit per hour, a substantial step in the preservation of fruit quality with instant field heat removal. Top fruit intake also benefits from DX chiller units ensuring that all picked product immediately enters a cool chain and with the utilisation of a similar system of Electronic Expansion Valves and low energy fans, savings of 25% over existing units will easily be achieved.

Ben and Nigel Bardsley of Bardsley Farms – featured elsewhere in this edition regarding their new joint venture with their retail partners UNIVEG, has enabled an enormous leap forward in capacity for packing fruit, storing to lengthen their season and also facilitating a venture into secondary processing through partnership. The new packhouse and storage building has been clad internally by the ICA team and the new 3492 bin capacity stores fitted with DCA (SafePod) systems. Ben is in agreement with Tom Hulme that growers must push the boundaries of storage technology in order to maximise potential returns as well as to meet the increasing expectations of customers for a longer British season. He made the decision to go with the ICA group system as the unit of fruit for monitoring is small and therefore reduces the risk of the volume of fruit that may react to the ULO regime. The SafePod systems at River farm are being used in Gala, Cox, Bramley and Braeburn stores with the aim of improving quality management, the reduction of CO2 injury in Bramley, extending shelf life in Cox and in the case of Braeburn to facilitate a comparison of fruit quality between standard mid term storage regimes and a long term programme with the view to extending the marketing window with high quality fruit.

The SafePod DCA system is a crucial part of the Bardsley farms five year plan. Looking to extend the April, May, June current sales window, the team sees that there are opportunities both with current retailer partnerships and also on the wholesale market. There is a fantastic premium available for British fruit at the end of the traditional season and beyond, something the Bardsleys are keen to capitalise on.