Forest Lodge Orchard is New Zealand’s first zero-emissions food producer. Forest Lodge Orchard is located in Central Otago, New Zealand, and is 100% free of fossil fuels. The farmers have electrified everything at the orchard — their irrigation, frost-fighting fans, electric vehicles, tools, and more. Supporting this electrification with a 45 kW solar power array and extendable battery storage system.
In January 2022, Forest Lodge will have its first zero-emission harvest of cherries. The focus is on the climate, and the folks at Forest Lodge believe that New Zealand’s future as a food-producing nation will excel with the ability to grow and produce food in a sustainable and climate-friendly way.
Forest Lodge spans 6 hectares and has a little over 9,300 cherry trees that are grown using the Upright Fruiting Offshoots (UFO) high-density growing system. In this system, trees are trained on a 2-dimensional wire trellis with upright offshoots that produce the cherries. This allows for Forest Lodge to plant 1,650 trees per hectare instead of the normal 666 per hectare. Using this system, trees can be trained and maintained with the use of less land, energy, and water without inhibiting growth.
The orchard also uses a Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S, Hyundai Kona EVs, and plenty of other cleantech.
I discussed the orchard’s climate leadership with Forest Lodge Orchard founder Mike Casey. Read on for more on the topic.
Interview With Founder Mike Casey of Forest Lodge
1. What inspired you to make your cherry orchard 100% zero emissions?
“I always knew my next business would have something to do with tackling climate change, however, I didn’t know exactly how we were going to do that. When my wife Rebecca and I decided to move our family to Central Otago in New Zealand, we found an amazing home on a large amount of land and decided to use that land for some income. Now we are attempting to grow world-class cherries, and in doing so we are also the first to achieve this zero fossil fuel use.”
2. How long was the process of electrifying every part of the farming process?
“We started with bare pastoral land of which we planted our first trees in 2019. In the spring of 2021, we went zero fossil fuels. The process was much easier because we started with a blank canvas. The hardest thing was that much of horticulture relies on the use of tractors, and e-tractors are only just coming onto the market now. We had to build a lot of our own equipment while waiting for our tractor to be delivered in July 2022!”
3. You will harvest your first zero-emission crop next month. How do you feel about this incredible achievement?
“We are over the moon with the results and it looks like the consumer was willing to pay more for a climate-friendly product. We will have all the sales data back from our partners in February and will crunch the numbers to determine how we were received by the consumer.”
4. What advice do you have for other farmers who want to transition to renewable energy and sustainable farming?
“Crunch the numbers. I can comfortably put my hand on my heart and say the payback on electric technology is easily under 10 years now. Start small by replacing old diesel equipment with new electrical equipment. Your power bill will begin to go up, but your total energy costs will lower significantly. Look for solar and battery arrays once you have electrified a fair amount because their payback is much faster if your power bill is higher.”
5. Is there anything else you would like to add?
“Reliability, operational cost, noise, health and safety, and the environment are all benefits of electric technology. If you identify with one or two of these benefits then it’s definitely worth investigating!”
Featured photo courtesy of Forest Lodge Orchard
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