Hilltop Ranch receives NSF verification of Eco-efficiency Analysis

Posted on May 2nd, 2012

BALLICO, CA – May 2, 2012 – The California almond industry is often praised for its impressive export sales in emerging markets, and for the long list of health benefits from almonds in the diet. Now sustainable practices have emerged as the next milestone with the recent NSF verification of an almond handler, following an Eco-efficiency Analysis (EEA).

Hilltop Ranch, Inc. of Ballico, California was found in the EEA study to have achieved measurable economic and environmental advantages by fine tuning almond production and processing methods with sound investments in lower energy cost, eco-friendly packaging, and more efficient production inputs and tools.

The NSF verification of the EEA study means that NSF International has evaluated the environmental and economic impacts on the production process through its anticipated life cycle, and verified the impacts measured by the study.

The study found that Hilltop Ranch was able to reduce land and water resource use by 34%, and energy usage by 24%, with very substantial savings as a result. The analysis of processes examined the life cycle costs for a defined level of production output, looked closely at improvements in energy and resource consumption, reduction of emissions and chemicals, more efficient land use, water use, and waste disposal.

Specifically, the EEA study considered operational changes in almond production and processing, and compared the environmental and cost impacts per 1 ton of almonds over 4 years.

On the grower side, the study measured improvements in almond orchards including a change from solid set sprinklers to micro sprinklers, adjustments to fertilizers, disking versus mowing, upgrading harvest equipment, burning versus mulching, switching from totes to bulk handling, and use of tote trailers versus bulk trailers.

For its almond processing facility, Hilltop Ranch built a 574 kilowatt solar array to power its processing facility, upgraded to more efficient air compressors and lighting, added insulation in cold storage and warehouses, re-sized many electric motors to smaller horsepower, eliminated one forklift and upgraded others to more efficient models, converted trucks to low-emission diesel, converted packaging to natural kraft corrugated with recyclable inks, and implemented a number of labor-saving improvements.

“Once we started looking at practices that could make us a more sustainable company, it led us to think differently about efficiency and long-term savings,” says Dexter Long, general manager at Hilltop Ranch. “Our solar array produces over 70 percent of the power our processing plant requires, and will pay for itself in 7 years. Other things we have done, some of them small things like motion-sensors on warehouse lighting, have long term savings that we think are significant. We believe many others in the almond industry are implementing solar and other improvements, but for us, a key step was to find out with this study whether the results could be measured.”

According to the EEA study, the changes implemented resulted in substantial environmental and cost savings since 2007. In primary energy consumption in orchards and processing facilities, electric energy use dropped 36%. Although the savings from solar is very impressive at the processing plant, the savings in energy use in the orchards was even more, due to the switch to micro-sprinklers resulting in a lower cost to pump water.

There are other benefits – the net effect on environment and bottom-line production costs reflects about a 40% improvement in only 4 years.  Natural gas and propane use is greatly reduced. Green House Gas emissions were cut 30% in the orchard, and 80% at the processing plant with the switch to solar, and similar improvements were realized in other air emissions.

The study also found reduction of grey water and solid waste generation. Impact on local wells, reservoirs and waterways is improved by switching to micro-sprinklers, thus improving land use impacts.

Toxic emissions are cut substantially with fuel savings from conversion to a low-emission diesel truck fleet, conversion to more efficient forklifts, and of course solar power (as measured by NSF analytics in the EEA model).

For Hilltop Ranch and other almond handlers, the move to sustainable practices might have been seen in the past as an ideological pursuit, but with the results of the EEA study showing very significant cost-savings in dollars, time and environmental impacts, the question may now be redefined as a competitive one.

“We are looking forward, and believe the steps we have taken to implement sustainable practices are leading us in the right direction for our company, our customers, our neighbors, and our industry,” says Long.

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